JOHNSTON, Iowa — It’s not enough to say Washington has gone too far with job-killing regulations and reckless spending. Rick Perry now wants to destroy the nation’s capital as we know it.
The 2012 presidential hopeful, seeming to channel his 2010 riffs, is sharpening his anti-Washington rhetoric in speeches, op-eds and interviews. In town hall meetings this week in first-test Iowa, where Perry is hoping to stage a comeback from single-digit poll numbers, the Texas governor has been using bold language to illustrate his disdain for the spendthrift, DC-Beltway culture.
He started out saying he was going to take a “wrecking ball” to the Washington establishment that he says “hates” him, and then he grabbed another construction-industry term to drive it home.
“I‘m going to show up in Washington, D.C., with a sledgehammer and they’re not going to like it, and that’s exactly what I think this country needs in Washington, is somebody that’s not afraid to go in and to really crush that system that is in place that has cost this country trillions of dollars,” Perry told workers Thursday at Pioneer, a seed research and development company in Johnston.
Perry also took a line (sure to be an oft-repeated refrain) from a Tea Party darling, South Carolina’s U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, as he left the stage: “Are you better off today than you were four trillion dollars ago?”
Jim Henson, political scientist at the University of Texas at Austin, said the smash-down rhetoric makes good political sense, and seems an awful lot like the Texas governor who came from behind to trounce U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchsion in 2010.
“Their campaign would benefit from re-injecting some of that insurgent flavor that he captured so well in 2010,” Henson said. “They were obviously doing something well because people bought it.’’
Even in Texas, Perry has his work cut out for him. A recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll indicates that most voters don’t readily conjure up the anti-Washington outsider imagery that Perry so deftly cultivated last year.
The most common terms voters associated with Perry in the recent survey were “career politician” and “conservative.” The least accurate description of him, respondents said, was the word “outsider,” Henson noted.
Perry will carry his rhetorical sledgehammer with him to Hy-Vee Hall in downtown Des Moines on Friday night, where the Iowa GOP is holding its annual Reagan Dinner. Perry will share the stage with four other presidential contenders, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Texas Congressman Ron Paul and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennyslvania.
Notable absences: the two candidates currently leading in the polls nationally and in Iowa — former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Georgia businessman Herman Cain.