Editorial: Rick Perry is the Miley Cyrus of the Republican Party

Last modified: 8/26/2014 12:58:28 AM
If politicians are like rock stars, Rick Perry is Miley Cyrus.

A year ago, the 21-year-old singer created controversy at MTV’s Video Music Awards when she used tongue and twerking to further chip away at her Hannah Montana past. During Sunday night’s VMA show, Cyrus the wrecking ball went in an entirely different direction. She sent her guest, a homeless man named Jesse, to accept on her behalf the award for video of the year.

While on stage, Jesse gave a speech about the homeless problem in the United States and concluded by urging people to join Cyrus in her fight “to make a powerful change in the world.”

Cyrus may be sincere, but the move feels like a calculated effort toward image rehabilitation – a bid to be taken more seriously.

The governor of Texas can relate.

On Saturday, Perry was in Chichester to continue work on his own personal transformation from 2012 primary punchline to legitimate contender for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. Even with the added degree of difficulty of an indictment on felony abuse of power charges, things are looking as good as can be expected for Perry.

Wayne Lesperance, a political science professor at New England College, has been impressed with Perry’s rebranding effort in the wake of that first bungled bid. The question is, Lesperance told the Monitor, whether voters would be willing to give Perry a second look.

They will.

In general, Americans have always had the ability to view their fellow citizens, whether celebrities or politicians, the way they view themselves: as works in progress. But as keepers of the first-in-the-nation primary, New Hampshire voters have a greater responsibility than just their capacity to forgive past mistakes. They must help the rest of the nation determine whether Perry has grown intellectually as a candidate or is simply testing methods for covering his flaws.

There’s a good chance the latter is the case.

Much of Perry’s appeal is similar to that of fellow Texan George W. Bush. He is an affable guy who excels at making personal connections with voters through aw-shucks charm and physical contact – a hearty handshake, a hand on the shoulder. But Perry’s past inability to handle the national stage, especially his primary debate “oops” moment, made some voters question his intelligence.

With that in mind, it’s hard not to wonder whether the professorial glasses paired with the all-black attire at Saturday’s picnic in Chichester was merely a superficial effort to change perception without actually doing any intellectual heavy lifting – sort of like a pop star launching by proxy a campaign to end homelessness. For Perry watchers, only time on the trail will tell.

He should know, however, that New Hampshire voters are unlikely to fall for gimmickry. It’s true that charm and charisma go a long way in retail politics, but when crunch time arrives, there’s not a black suit or pair of glasses in existence that can shield a candidate from tough questions on immigration, the economy, foreign policy, personal integrity, etc.

Then and only then will voters know whether Perry 2.0 is truly an upgrade over the original.


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