Rick Perry is conducting his public defense against his indictment for abuse of power like a political campaign. His booking on the charges was the occasion for a jaunty and rousing speech and even the mug shot (on which the gag poster above is based) turned out to be a successful photo op. That mug shot may be the best of all his official portraits.
Perry knows politics, particularly Texas politics, as well as anyone who’s ever lived, which is one reason he’s the longest-serving Texas governor ever. He seems to be a political animal down to his fingertips, so it’s instinctive with him to turn a fingerprinting session into a campaign event.
Perry is also contemplating another run at the Presidency, so it’s important for him to limit the national public’s perception of the damage from the indictment. Treating it like a silly gnat that he can swipe away with the flick of a wrist is just the ticket for that.
In the courtroom, it may not be so simple. Perry is accused of violating a very plain and very Texas sort of law which prohibits an official from using his power to coerce another public servant into taking an action that the other public servant doesn’t want to take.
In the wake of her very public and very humiliating arrest for drunk driving — very drunk driving — Perry tried to get Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg (above) to resign. A lot of people agreed that she should, but she refused to. So Perry apparently used various implements in his tool box to force her to resign, including a threat to veto funding for a government watchdog agency she headed, a threat he eventually carried through on.
Perry knew he would win the public relations battle over his actions, as he largely has, but he failed to take the anti-coercion law into account. Linking his veto threat specifically to Lehmberg’s resignation was, on the face of it, a clear violation of that law. Perry may well win the public relations battle over his case and still get convicted of a felony or two.
Perry is like a modern-day John Henry, a man who knows how to drive steel with a hammer better than anyone else, but is baffled by the task of operating a screwdriver. That bifurcation of skills and perception is the fascination of the man, and will be the fascination of the trial. He and his legal team will try to bring Perry’s hammer into the courtroom. The prosecutor will try to turn the jury’s attention towards the mishandled screwdriver.
It will be one of the most interesting political trials since the days of Watergate.