As Ross Douthat counsels former Gov. Mitt Romney to resist the temptation to attack Gov. Rick Perry too soon, Rick Perry is beginning to look like a familiar figure: namely, Mitt Romney.
To be more precise, Mitt Romney the flip-flopper.
Part of this owes to what Politico ’s Ben Smith calls the "downside of a very long record." [Read Laura Chapin: Rick Perry's Texas Benefited from 'Washington Overspending' ]
Mr. Perry has embraced billions of dollars worth of [tax increases]—including a $528 million tax increase approved in 1990, after he defected to the Republican Party.
The biggest tax increases came early in his career, before anyone used the phrase "Tea Party" to describe a potent political movement. But a few weeks ago, Mr. Perry also signed into law an online sales tax measure that the state says will raise $60 million over the next five years.
Grover Norquist’s influential organization, Americans for Tax Reform, calls the measure a dreaded "new tax." Mr. Perry opposed it as a stand-alone measure, but this summer it was tucked into a must-pass bill during a legislative session that otherwise saw deep budget cuts.
But it’s worse than that. Who’s the more flagrant flip-flopper? Mitt Romney, the son of a Republican governor who navigated liberal Massachusetts? Or Rick Perry the ex- Democrat who chaired Al Gore’s 1988 presidential campaign in Texas? [See a collection of political cartoons on the GOP hopefuls.]
David Brooks wields the knife that Perry’s GOP opponents will surely begin twisting in the coming weeks and months: "The man who now vows to appoint only anti-abortion officials to relevant administration jobs endorsed Rudy Giuliani four short years ago."
FrumForum’s Mark Yzaguirre explores other regions of the Perry underbelly, wondering how it is that Perry can plausibly claim that the Democratic party left him, a la Ronald Reagan:
It is true that the Democratic Party has moved to the left over the past forty years on social and cultural issues, but I don’t think one can say that the mainstream Democratic view on the constitutionality of and basic support for Social Security and Medicare has changed much since 1968.
Granted, the Al Gore with whom Perry associated was a different figure, a moderate Southern Democrat along the lines of his subsequent boss, Bill Clinton. But Rick Perry is decidedly not running as a neo-DLC Democrat. He’s running as the champion of the Republican wing of the Republican party, to adapt a sound bite from 2004’s Howard Dean. [Read Ken Walsh: Rick Perry's Gaffe Problem]
Is Perry intellectually nimble enough to avoid being tagged as a flip-flopper? And who on his right flank will exploit this record? Surely not Mitt Romney in his glass house. Michele Bachmann, then? Maybe Sarah Palin?
One thing seems certain: The guy is far from inevitable.