Perry shifts from one crisis to another

Rick Perry’s Republican presidential campaign, desperate to regain its lost footing, did not have to spend another weekend talking about the Texas governor’s break with party orthodoxy on immigration. That’s the good news. The bad news is, Perry’s new crisis appears to be much worse.

In the early years of his political career, Rick Perry began hosting fellow lawmakers, friends and supporters at his family’s secluded West Texas hunting camp, a place known by the name painted in block letters across a large, flat rock standing upright at its gated entrance.

“Niggerhead,” it read.

Ranchers who once grazed cattle on the 1,070-acre parcel on the Clear Fork of the Brazos River called it by that name well before Perry and his father, Ray, began hunting there in the early 1980s…. But the name of this particular parcel did not change for years after it became associated with Rick Perry, first as a private citizen, then as a state official and finally as Texas governor.

The Washington Post‘s headline on this scoop called the hunting camp’s name “racially charged.” Given just how offensive this is, I’d argue we’re well past “racially charged” on this one.

It’s worth noting that the Perry campaign quickly pushed back against the Post‘s report, telling reporters that the governor’s father painted over the word shortly after leasing the land, and that Perry himself considers the word “offensive.” But as the Post noted this morning, the campaign’s line is in conflict with “the recollections of seven people cited in the story, and it remains unclear when or whether Perry dealt with the name while using the camp.”

If Perry used the camp name, it has the potential to do irreparable harm to his already-struggling campaign. If he and his team are now lying about the chain of events, it will only compound the problem.

The governor’s rivals, who are probably feeling pretty lucky right about now, didn’t have too much to say yesterday, though Herman Cain told ABC yesterday, “Since Governor Perry has been going there for years to hunt, I think that it shows a lack of sensitivity for a long time of not taking that word off of that rock and renaming the place. It’s just basically a case of insensitivity.”

It’s hard to say, at least at this point, how the Republican base will respond to these revelations, especially when details are still coming together. But for the last few weeks, the GOP establishment has been expressing concerns about Perry’s viability as a national candidate and his ability to appeal to the American mainstream.

The odds of Mitt Romney getting the nomination went up a little more over the weekend.