The Rick Perry campaign is dealing with the fallout from the Washington Post story about the racist name of the hunting camp the candidate’s family leased for more than 20 years. But though some conservatives were ready to defend Perry from what they believed was a slanted and poorly documented attack from the mainstream media, the decision of rival Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain to jump on Perry over his association with the “Niggerhead” camp compounds the Texas governor’s problems.
Cain told Fox News Sunday, “There isn’t a more vile, negative word than the N-word and for him to leave it there as long as he did before, I hear, that they finally painted over it, is just plain insensitive to a lot of black people in this country.”
Cain’s attack could help legitimize Democratic efforts to try and demonize Perry. Cain’s statement may well be a reflection of the Godfather Pizza exec’s own convictions about the need to oppose racism. But coming as it does at a time when many conservatives are starting to think of Cain as a serious contender rather than a curiosity, the decision to pile on Perry rather than to cut him some slack must also be understood as an attempt to knock off a man with whom he is competing for Tea Party and social conservative votes. With Perry fading badly as a result of his awful debate performances and his moderate stand on immigration, second tier candidates such as Cain and Rick Santorum are trying to position themselves as viable GOP alternatives. The camp story undercuts Perry’s efforts to go on the attack against Mitt Romney and to change the conversation from one about his own shortcomings. While conservatives tend to rally around any one of their own who is under siege from the liberal press, Cain’s frontal attack on the issue may make it harder for Perry’s camp to portray him as a victim of media bias.
That makes the help from Texas Democrats swearing to Perry’s fair-mindedness all the more necessary to his survival. As the liberal Texas Tribune reported today:
Even some of Perry’s fiercest Texas critics say they do not believe he is racist. They point to his record of appointments as evidence: He appointed the state’s first African-American State Supreme Court justice, Wallace Jefferson, and later made him chief justice. (Jefferson’s great grandfather was a slave, “sold like a horse,” Perry once said with disgust.) Perry’s former general counsel and former chief of staff, Brian Newby, is black; so is Albert Hawkins, the former Health and Human Services Commissioner who Perry handpicked to lead the massive agency in 2002.
“He doesn’t have a racist bone in his body,” said former Democratic State Rep. Ron Wilson, who is black and served with Perry in his early years in the legislature. “He didn’t then, and he doesn’t now. Added Dallas Democratic Sen. Royce West, who is also black: “I don’t agree with him on policy issues, but you can point to many things he has done that were sensitive to ethnic minorities.”
Indeed, in his 11-year gubernatorial tenure, Perry has appointed more minorities to statewide posts — including university regents and secretaries of state — than any governor in Texas history. [What is] the biggest beating he’s taken on the campaign trail so far? His unwavering support for granting in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants in Texas.
But the testimonials from his erstwhile opponents may not save Perry if Cain’s perspective gets more play. Even worse, the decision of some Texas Democrats who are not political allies of the governor to defend him against charges of racism may be a sign Texans think the chances of him leaving Austin are minimal.