Strong and wrong

Rick Perry’s over-the-top rhetoric about Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve were certainly noticed by the political world. Whether it’s the sort of incident that damages the Republican presidential candidate’s campaign or not will depend in part on how the media spins the story.

If, for example, the story is, “Thuggish buffoon threatens violence and casually throws around references to treason,” this is an important self-inflicted wound for the Perry campaign. If, however, the story is, “Tough, swaggering Texan speaks his mind, rejects criticism,” Perry won’t mind a bit.

With this in mind, note Chris Cillizza’s report describing the governor as “brash, bold and unapologetic about being so.” (Remember, this is in direct reference to Perry arguing that Bernanke would be acting in a “treasonous” way for trying to boost the economy.)

A look back across Perry’s rhetorical history suggests that this latest controversy is nothing new.

Perry famously floated the idea of Texas seceding from the United States if the federal government kept trampling on states’ rights in 2009; he referred to the BP oil spill as an “act of God”; and he once asked Texans to pray for rain to end the state’s drought.

In each case — and many, many more — his critics (and they are legion in Texas) seized on the remark as evidence that Perry was out of touch with average voters.

And, time and again Perry refused to back away from his comments and felt no political pain as a result…. Put simply: Rick Perry doesn’t apologize — and it’s worked for him politically.

As a factual matter, this isn’t quite right. As Adam Serwer noted, Perry has apologized and backpedaled on several occasions, but in nearly every instance, it was after the governor had offended conservatives and Perry felt the need to make them happy again.

But there’s also the larger media issue to keep an eye on. If political reporters see all of Perry’s reckless and controversial comments through an agreed-upon lens — he’s the Texas Tough Guy Cowboy who doesn’t care about niceties — then every time the candidate says something outrageous, media outlets won’t even bother to take him to task. After all, it’ll just be Perry being Perry.

I can only assume at his campaign headquarters, Cillizza’s “brash, bold and unapologetic about being so” line was quickly added to some bulletin board, alongside a post-it note that read, “The branding strategy is already working.”

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