Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Getty Images
Texas Gov. Rick Perry came out of the gate in the 2012 Republican nomination process with a bang: After announcing his candidacy on Aug. 13, Perry dominated many of the polls by mid-September. His folksy charm and seemingly reliable conservative record in Texas seemed the perfect antidote to Mitt Romney’s occasionally stiff tendencies on the stump and his legacy of shifting positions.
But since mid-September Perry has plunged in the polls. Damaged by poor debate performances and especially his defense of a policy in Texas that allows the children of illegal immigrants to attend college and pay in-state tuition.
Perry now has decided, as he sits in the second tier of the GOP contenders, to tap into the resource that seemed to catapult Donald Trump into the limelight early this year: wondering aloud if President Obama’s birth certificate is real.
In an interview with Parade Magazine, Perry said he met recently with Trump and that they talked about how Trump thinks the certificate is fake. Perry told Parade he doesn’t know if it is real or not.
He then told John Harwood of CNBC and The New York Times:
JOHN HARWOOD: Mitt Romney after the President released his birth certificate earlier this year said that issue’s done and settled, I accept it. You chose to keep it alive in your interview with Parade magazine over the weekend. Why’d you do that?
RICK PERRY: I– it’s a good issue to keep alive. Just– you know, Donald’s got to have some fun. So– and the issue is this.
JOHN HARWOOD: But it sounds like you really do have some doubt about it.
RICK PERRY: Well, look, I haven’t– I haven’t seen his– I haven’t seen his grades. My grades ended up on the front page of the newspaper. So, let’s– you know, if we’re going to show stuff, let’s show stuff. So. But, look, that’s all a distraction. I mean, I get it. I’m– I’m really not worried about the President’s birth certificate. It’s fun to– to poke and add him a little bit and say hey, how about– let’s see your grades and your birth certificate.
Perry’s willingness to embrace “birtherism” by at least bringing up the topic suggests he thinks it might give him an edge as the nominating process soon turns to the voting phase. With the Iowa caucuses scheduled for Jan. 3, Perry has just about two months to get back on top if he wants to have a chance to win or come close to the top in any of the early GOP contests.
We can’t know his precise motivation, and few polls exist on the public’s opinion on the entire birther saga, which has been brewing on the right for years.
This May Gallup poll does spell out the potential risk for Perry as he ties himself, however loosely, to openly questioning President Obama’s eligibility to be president.
That May Gallup poll shows that after Mr. Obama released the long version of his birth certificate in April, 65 percent of independents said he was definitely born in the U.S., up 9 percentage points from an April Gallup poll on the same issue.
Among Republicans, 49 percent said he was born in America in the May version. And from the April to May poll there was a 20 percentage point drop among Republicans who said Mr. Obama probably or definitely was born in another country. (Among Republicans, 23 percent still thought that in May, per Gallup.)
Perry refers to the issue as a distraction, but that may be mostly of his making. He was pressed again on the subject at a press availability in Columbia, S.C. late Tuesday and again refused to say whether he believe President Obama was born in the United States.
This could be a sign, along with his new flat-tax and balanced-budget amendment proposals, that he is ready to tack hard to the right as he contemplates a path to the nomination that includes winning over the conservative/activist wing of the party in Iowa and other early states before emerging as the ultimate alternative to Mitt Romney inside the party.