Rick Perry, US President?

As Perry signals his presidential intent, some say he’s just “too Texan” to make it.

Rural Paint Creek boy; devout Christian; the man who has sanctioned a record 232 executions. There are many ways to describe former-Democrat-turned-Republican Rick Perry, the Texan governor who this weekend is expected to announce his bid for the American presidency.

Until recently, the 61-year-old has consistently denied suggestions that the presidential role held any interest for him. However, Perry's imminent travel itinerary -- which takes him through key primary states in the coming days -- has sparked widespread assertion that the Texan is set to be a Republican candidate by next week.

In an interview for Time magazine, Mark Halperin asked Perry about the presidential nominations:

MH: Is there an open question as to whether you want to run for President?

RP: We're having that conversation. I mean, you and I having this conversation has answered that question.

MH: About whether you want to run?

RP: Sure. I mean I wouldn't be this far into the process... The issue of, "is this what I want to do?" was dealt with about 45 days ago in a conversation with my wife. Prior to that, no. Being the President of the United States was not on my radar screen from the standpoint of something I wanted to do.

The governor is certainly hitting the headlines. Last weekend, the man known as "Ricky Perry" as a boy in provincial America led a 30,000-strong prayer rally in which he painted a picture of a broken America in desperate need of healing:

Father, our heart breaks for America. We see discard at home, we see fear in the marketplace, we see anger in the halls of government and as a nation, we have forgotten who made us, who protects us, who blesses us. And for that we cry out for your forgiveness.

The Texan was met with whoops of "Amen" and loud applause at the end of his religious address. To his supporters at least, the US financial crisis helped give added resonance to his pitch. Cynics, on the other hand, might view the prayer as an overt attempt to capture the US evangelical vote by a man who has never shied away from interweaving politics and economics with religion.

Fortunately for Perry, certain aspects of the Texan economy - let's put aside some of the highest poverty rates in America, amongst other things, for a moment - are in his favour. In contrast to the incredibly volatile national economy for example, Texas is currently undergoing significant growth and job creation. The Republican's radical austerity measures -- which include significant cuts to Texan health and education services -- may well pose difficulties for winning votes but such practices will no doubt be easier to legitimise when serious concern over US debt is so prevalent.

However, Perry still has some important hurdles to clear. While the religious vote plays in his favour, those not attracted by overt religion may struggle to disassociate his fervent Christian beliefs from his political ones. Likewise, the Left may well struggle to accept Perry's conservative views on the economy and society: let it not be forgotten that this is a man who embraced the Tea Party movement very early on.

Economics aside, perhaps it comes down to good old-fashioned history, as Toby Harnden suggests when he writes that, post-Bush, perhaps Ricky Perry is just "too Texan" to win a general election.

 

Tess Riley is a freelance journalist and social justice campaigner. She also works, part time, for Streetbank, and can be found on Twitter at @tess_riley

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Putin's vote-winning trick? He makes power personal

Representatives in the Russian parliament, the Duma, have long been unpopular. Yet President Putin is immune to voter's discontent.

A week before Russia’s parliamentary elections, the central square in Ekaterinburg – the fourth-largest city in Russia, a thousand miles east of Moscow – was packed with people, huddling close on a wet September night. They faced a stage decorated with a poster imploring the crowd to vote for “ours”, meaning United Russia, Vladimir Putin’s political party.

Yet it wasn’t politics for which thousands of people had braved the rain – it was music. During the perestroika and glasnost years of post-Soviet openness, Ekaterinburg was the cradle of the Russian rock scene. The home-grown bands Nautilus Pompilius, Chaif and Agata Kristi sang about freedom and change. Thus, this free concert to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the legendary Sverdlovsk Rock Club was bound to draw a crowd, and United Russia latched on to that.

A message from Dmitry Medvedev, the United Russia leader, praising local rock bands for their bravery “in those days when freedom was in deficit”, was read to the assembled fans. If freedom was a powerful word thirty years ago it has little impact on Russians today. Turnout in the election on 18 September was less than 50 per cent (and only 41.5 per cent in the Ekaterinburg region), a sign of the general political apathy. Before they went to the polls, it was hard to find anyone who was enthusiastic about voting.

“Why should I bother with voting? The result is clear: United Russia will, as always, win,” says Vyacheslav Bakhtin, who owns a small construction company in Ekaterinburg. He added: “Elections are the last thing on my mind. My business has been suffering for the last two years. We couldn’t even afford to go on a family vacation this summer.”

The Russian economy is struggling because of low oil prices, trade embargoes and geopolitical concerns. There have been public spending cuts, and the free float of the rouble led to currency devaluation and high inflation (7 per cent in August). Unemployment is rising and the base interest rate is 10.5 per cent.

There are many reasons for Russians to want a change in government, yet it appears that people do not see the link between their daily struggles and Putin’s policies.

Anna Mikhailova has recently returned from a tour of the Golden Ring of Russia (a circuit of medieval cities to the north-east of Moscow), where there is a stark contrast between the restored onion-domed churches and the crumbling villages.

“People live in poverty in crammed kummunalki [Soviet-style communal flats with several families sharing one kitchen and bathroom],” she tells me. “But they still talk about Putin the Saviour, standing up for Mother Russia.”

Apart from United Russia, 13 parties were judged eligible to stand, but the range of choice was an illusion. Olga, who requested anonymity for her own safety, explained. “We have one party – United Russia – a few pseudo-opposition parties, the Communists, the LDPR and Fair Russia who support Putin’s cause, and a bunch of nobodies that people don’t care about.”

Indeed, Gennady Zyuganov, who has led the Communist Party since 1993, campaigned under the slogan “Ten Stalinist punches against capitalism”. But although he criticised Medvedev, he didn’t touch Putin. The populist leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), Vladimir Zhirinovsky, another political dinosaur, actively endorses Putin’s foreign policy.

If there is discontent among voters, Putin is immune to it. On the eve of the elections, United Russia’s popularity slid to just 30 per cent of total respondents in one poll, though it scored 50 per cent among those who said they were definitely going to vote. Medvedev’s own approval rating fell to 48 per cent. His message to the elderly that state pensions wouldn’t increase, and his advice to teachers to get jobs in the private sector if they weren’t happy with their state salaries, might have had something to do with it. Yet Putin’s popularity remained consistently high, at 82 per cent, according to independent pollsters the Levada Centre.

Alexey Volkov, a 40-year-old business manager, says he voted for the Communists. “I voted against United Russia, the apparatchiks stifling the president,” he explains. “Putin, on the other hand, is the best ruler since Alexander III [Russia’s emperor at the end of the 19th century].”

Representatives in the Russian parliament, the Duma, have long been unpopular and considered ineffective by the Russian people. Over the past 16 years, presidential power has expanded hugely. Since Russia adopted its new constitution in 1993, successive presidents have introduced legislation to stretch the office’s authority. In his first term as president, Putin acquired 219 new rights and duties, and as his successor Medvedev enjoyed an additional 114 responsibilities. These range from educational appointments to federal government decisions.

As predicted, United Russia topped the ballot with 54 per cent of the vote. Putin’s party claimed 343 of the 450 seats (up from 238 in 2011). The same four parties will form the Duma. The Yabloko and PARNAS parties, seen by voters as a token gesture of protest against the Kremlin, gained negligible support, with 2 per cent and 0.7 per cent, respectively.

It is ultimately Putin’s victory. In the eyes of the majority, he has restored Russia’s strength abroad, revived the defence industry and army, and reinvigorated the country with patriotism. The latter was accomplished via manipulation of the media, which has reinstated the West as the enemy and focused attention on foreign affairs at the expense of the social and economic agenda at home.

Still, with the low turnout, only 26 per cent of eligible Russians voted for Putin’s party. Though that was enough to tighten the president’s grip on the Duma, nationwide the elections paint a picture of a dejected Russia just beginning to feel discontent with the status quo. It is not yet enough to unseat Putin, but as the old Russian saying goes: a drop of water can cut through stone.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times