It takes a lot to shock this cynical political junkie, but I’ve got to admit, I was floored by “N–gerhead.” If you’ve been too busy watching football this weekend to pay attention, that’s the name of the ranch Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s family leases for hunting parties and such. Perry says his father changed the name decades ago when they bought the place. About a dozen people who talked to the Washington Post beg to differ. It’s a pretty ugly scandal, which is worse for Perry because of its simplicity. It’s his ranch. It’s called “N–gerhead.” Any questions?
So here are my five questions about what happens next…
1. Is Perry finished? Simple, embarrassing stories are usually the political deal-enders. Think Michael Dukakis’ emotionless rape answer, or
George McGovern’s Edmund Muskie’s tears, or Gary Bauer’s pancake flipping accident or John Kerry’s boogie-board. It’s worse when there’s a visual, but a big black rock that says “niggerhead” is pretty much visual enough without an actual photo. So will donors flee from Perry like he has typhoid fever? Will the overall story of his hometown, where they didn’t celebrate MLK day until two years ago, and where apparently, greeting black people as “hey nigger!” was rote like, 40 years ago, finish his campaign off in a way that even his gaffes and poor debate performance could not?
2. Does this make Chris Christie more likely to get in? He’s got to be figuring, “hell, I couldn’t do any worse than that guy.” But caution flags remain for the NJ governor, who isn’t exactly popular in his home state, who would completely energize unions (and not just teachers) to fight him if he became the nominee, and who is not only toting excess body baggage, with the health consequences that brings with it, asthma included; but also some ideological impurities that the base may not like. But could Christie’s giant ego push him into the race regardless? With Perry on the ropes, maybe so.
3. Will Herman Cain field a backlash for scolding Perry on a racial matter? It’s always dicey for a black Republican to scold fellow GOPers, or America itself, on the subject of race. Remember the rightwing backlash when Condoleezza Rice called slavery “America’s original sin?” You’d think it wasn’t America’s original sin (because America has no sins. Never has.) And Michael Steele angered the GOP base every time he tried to suggest the party wasn’t exactly solid with minorities. Cain is already getting some pushback from the HotAirian commenters, and if he looks like he’s “playing the race card” by stating the obvious about Perry, rather than sticking wtih the GOP-approved “blacks are brainwashed by Democrats” and “I’m gonna put some gospel in ‘Hail to the Chief’” shtick, he could see his star begin to dim. Already on this page is GOP strategist Steve Murphy, who writes on Politico’s Arena blog:
This going to hurt Perry and of course it is horribly wrong. We are also finding out how truly un-vetted he actually is.
There will be another casualty, too, and that is Cain. His appeal to the tea party right depends upon Cain being anti-racial. Those voters love Cain rejecting the still painful historical residue of slavery and Jim Crow because that view conforms to their own. Those voters will punish Cain for raising this issue.
Which leads us to:
4. Conversely, will this make Rick Perry more popular on the right? Not because they like the term “N–gerhead” but because the story will allow Perry to be portrayed as the victim of a “drive by media slander.” That’s the meme Erick Erickson is already going with, and look for Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck to take the same tack on talk radio tomorrow. Once that kicks in, will the natural reflex of defensiveness against the “evil racism charge” actually cause conservatives to close ranks behind Perry, even if the establishment flees from him? (The Erickson post also takes a swipe at Cain for tisk-tisking Perry…)
5. Is this more than a 2 day story? “N–gerhead” will definitely make the morning news, and last at least through Monday night’s primetime cable shows. But will it have more resonance than that? Usually, racial stories don’t linger all that long in the media, unless there are further developments. If local Texas stations start enterprising this, and go to the counties mentioned in the WaPo article, and interview black and white people who tell them there is a race problem in the towns where Rick Perry lives and hangs out, and if this feeds into other negative Perry stories, like the Justice Department probe of Texas redistricting, it could last. And that would not be good news for Perry (except among the hard right, which will likely regard any further flogging of race-based Perry stories as an attack on all white conservatives/tea partiers, etc., which means they’ll dig in their heels.)