The Big Conversation:
While protecting his right flank on Monday night, Gov. Rick Perry may have exposed his left.
Perry at last week's debate faced harsh criticism for his remarks about Social Security, but at the CNN/Tea Party Express debate in Tampa, Fla., last night, the attacks on Perry largely came from the right, giving Mitt Romney a potential opening.
Perry charmed the crowd of 1,000 Tea Party activists and landed several blows, but the governor's opponents, with striking voracity, slammed him for his failed 2007 executive order mandating the HPV vaccine in Texas and his support for certain immigration policies.
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, looking to revive her campaign after taking a nose-dive in the polls, called it "flat out wrong" to require "innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order." Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania echoed Bachmann's attack, calling Perry's executive order "big government run amok." Perry again defended his decision by saying it aligned with his "pro-life" politics.
Bachmann, Santorum and others also hit Perry for signing a law in 2001 that provided in-state college tuition to certain illegal immigrants. “I think the American way is not to give taxpayer subsidized benefits to people who have broken our laws," Bachmann said.
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas also jabbed at the governor, saying his taxes had risen during Perry's tenure.
Perry spokesman Mark Miner said the governor weathered the sharp criticism. “He was under attacks by all the candidates, and he stood his ground. He talked about issues that mattered to Americans,” Miner said. “He talked about his record on jobs and the economy, about Social Security. Like a couple of nights ago, he’s going to leave tonight stronger than he came in.”
But as Politico notes, Romney — who again sparred repeatedly with Perry last night over several issues, including Social Security — hopes a skirmish on the right allows him to consolidate moderate and establishment Republican support. Perry's performance may also give further pause to GOP elites, in whom Perry, as The New York Times notes, is still provoking unease.
As Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom put it: “Rick Perry came into this debate with a Social Security problem and he left with a conservative problem and he had to defend himself."
- The candidates on the debate stage weren't the only ones to hit Rick Perry from the right on Monday night. Sarah Palin went after Perry in a post-debate appearance on Fox News when asked about the HPV vaccine controversy. "That’s crony capitalism," she said. "That’s part of the problem that we have in this country is that people are afraid, even in our own party, to call one another out on that. … Michele Bachmann tried to make that point tonight and she’s going to get potentially crucified." Reminder: The former Alaska governor campaigned for Perry's re-election effort in 2010.
- The state's largest power generator announced Monday that it will shut down two coal plants and three mines to comply with pending federal rules. The company, which also announced that it has sued the Environmental Protection Agency, said the closures would cut 500 jobs.
- Citing a "lingering health issue," state Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, said Monday that he won't seek re-election next year. Two opponents had already declared their intention to run, and Howard, who has served in the Legislature since 1995, said he expected at least two more to join the race.
"Let me say, for Rick to say that you can't secure the border, I think is pretty much a treasonous comment." — Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman at Monday night's debate. (The crowd, largely cold to Huntsman throughout the night, booed the comment.)
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