Don't Underestimate Rick Perry

Written by Les Francis on Monday August 15, 2011

img class="alignnone size-full wp-image-101386" title="Rick Perry" src="/files/wxrimport/2011-08/rick-perry2.jpg" alt="" width="450" height="300" /><

In the spring of 1966, as a young graduate student, I spent a week in Sacramento with my parents’ neighbor and my first political mentor, the late Alfred E. Alquist. At the time, Al was a second term Democratic member of the California State Assembly.

One of the week’s conversations has stuck with me ever since, and it underscores the timeless and essential wisdom of the warning, “Be careful what you wish for -- you may receive it."

Walking back from a lobbyist’s luncheon with Al and a handful of other legislators, I listened carefully as they discussed election year politics. One of them offered the hope that George Christopher, San Francisco’s Republican Mayor (imagine that!), would lose the GOP gubernatorial primary race to “that actor, Ronald Reagan.” Such an outcome, the fellow predicted confidently, would ensure Democratic Governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown’s reelection in the fall.


Reagan won that November by nearly a million votes, and the rest—as they say—is history. I recited that story to my Democratic colleagues during the course of the 1980 race between my boss, President Jimmy Carter and former California Governor (and “that actor”) Ronald Reagan. Carter took Reagan’s challenge seriously, but most others didn’t. At one point, I invited several California “pols”, including former legislative powers Jess Unruh and Bob Moretti, to meet with top campaign and White House aides so that they might hear and hopefully, heed, informed counsel on how to best deal with Reagan as an opposition candidate. To my guests’ amazement, and my horror, one key member of our team proceeded to lecture the Californians on how poorly they understood their former Governor, and how they exaggerated his appeal as a potential president.


Today, I hear echoes of the same arrogance, masquerading as insight, being peddled by various commentators and Democratic operatives as it applies to Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry, any combination of which could well be the Republican ticket in 2012. Those GOP presidential hopefuls are, we’re told, “shallow”, “dumb”, “extreme”, and “dangerous.” Few on our side of the aisle can imagine any of them near, let alone in, the Oval Office.