Commentators on Rick Perry’s indictment are falling into a pattern — mischaracterizing the charges against him, and then defending him or attacking him on the basis of those mischaracterized charges. Perry is not charged with using his power, specifically his power of line-item veto, in an irresponsible or unethical way — he’s charged with using those things for the one purpose he’s legally bound by Texas law not to use them for, namely, attempting to coerce a public servant, Rosemary Lehmberg, into taking an action she didn’t want to take and wasn’t legally required to take, resigning from office.
Perry’s motives for doing this are irrelevant. He may have, as he’s argued, simply wanted to rid the state of an official who’d lost its confidence, due to her problems with alcohol and the law. He may have, as his opponents have argued, really wanted to replace her with a Travis County DA less liable to tangle with his administration.
Neither of these things are important to the case as a legal matter, and won’t figure into the prosecution’s arguments, which will try to prove that Perry committed a felony or two by attempting to coerce a specific public servant into resigning, which the law forbids.
As a defendant, Perry has in his favor the presumption of innocence, the affection of most of his fellow Texans, and the notion, on both sides of the aisle, that the charges against him are sketchy, punishment for playing hardball politics as usual. But the law is the law, and a very careful, reportedly non-partisan prosecutor has determined that he broke it.
Spinning the case as a question of ethics, or intention, or partisan politics is the business of Perry’s supporters and enemies. The trial will deal with facts and the law, and none of the spin will figure into it at all. I suspect that this will take a lot of the pundits, and those who follow them, by surprise.