Who arranges to be booked for a felony at 5:02 p.m., with the certainty of TV cameras to capture every moment? Someone who believes the images will be of benefit in the court of public opinion, and perhaps even the literal courtroom down the road.
This was the calculation of Texas Governor Rick Perry on August 15, and it has paid substantial dividends in the days since.
Supporters enjoying this year’s sharper Perry amid his rehabilitation from the 2011 “Oops” moment see the emergence of a fighting side that most conservatives want in their 2016 nominee.
Republicans willing to give him a shot in 2016 have early evidence that he may be a deserving option as the primary field takes shape.
Many fence-sitters neither charmed nor repelled by him are nodding in approval of his handling of questionable corruption charges, a possible first step toward consideration of his actual message.
And perhaps most importantly, Democrats hostile to him in every political way are admitting that the case against him is flawed.
From the side-lit smile of his cover-worthy mug shot to the muscular defiance he was able to express on live TV, this is the stuff of indictment envy. Politicians mired in middling poll numbers may be wondering if a grand jury can be found to target them so conveniently.
But Perry’s fans, critics, and most notably his attorneys know that the reactions of Summer 2014 are largely meaningless. They are a nice boost to what had already been a good year for Perry, easily found on countless cable segments on the border crisis, and in high-level debates on national security with Rand Paul in the pages of the Washington Post. It is exactly where a potential candidate wants to be in the months before the nation starts paying close attention to the crowded derby field of Republican applicants to succeed Barack Obama.
But as those months roll past, the road gets far rougher. The clock begins to tick against him with great urgency. This burst of favorable reaction to what seems to many like a political persecution has a short shelf life. And it could be outweighed by its unavoidable negatives.
Everyone pleased with Perry’s reaction to the indictment is from one or both of two political camps: energetic conservatives and voters who are paying close attention to the 2016 election two years out.
For the millions who belong to neither camp, there could be a looming barrier to their embrace of Perry: the troublesome prospect of dealing with an indictment that is still alive well into 2015, when a large pack of candidates will be running for President of Iowa and New Hampshire.
Those two states, with their combined population of just over 4 million, will once again carry wildly disproportionate clout in the nominee selection process. If the media are able to gleefully include an unresolved indictment in their Perry stories at that time, it could be a killer. For every GOP voter proud of his resistance to the prosecution, there may be two who see the indictment angle and move on to another candidate.
For that reason, Perry’s lawyers need to take every step to get this indictment dashed against the rocks of ridicule in short order. Their 60-page Motion to Dismiss is the first step in a dance steeped in timing issues. If it fails, there is a risk to an endless series of appeals, which could stretch the drama well into 2015 with no guarantee of success.