While campaigning in Iowa on Monday, brand new presidential candidate Rick Perry used some fairly threatening language against Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke. Think Progress videotaped the Texas governor telling a group of supporters at a house party, "If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I dunno what y’all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treasonous in my opinion.” As observers immediately pointed out, treason is a capital offense — and everyone knows how they feel about those in Texas.
Perry may have intended his menacing rhetoric to be more folksy than frightening, but even some conservatives were taken aback. John Podhoretz, writing for Commentary, says that Perry sounded more "like a caller to a radio show" than a presidential hopeful. George W. Bush's former Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto tweeted that Perry's comments were "inappropriate and unpresidential."
The bottom line is that it's completely outside the bounds of acceptable political discourse to even joke about exacting violence against a government official, who, whether you agree with his policies or not, has committed himself to service to his country. Then again, to Rick Perry, holding different policy views may be tantamount to lacking patriotism.
Hours after making the comments about Bernanke, Perry was asked by The Wall Street Journal whether he thinks President Obama loves America. "You need to ask him," Perry replied. Compare that answer to what Mitt Romney said at a New Hampshire town hall earlier in the day. Amid withering criticism of Obama's economic stewardship, Romney added, "I know he loves America."
If Perry is deliberately making a bet that the mood of the GOP electorate is angrier than Romney assumes it to be, it's a risky one. Perry has a lot going for him as a candidate — Texas has produced 40 percent of the jobs in America since June of 2009, and whether Perry deserves credit for that or not, it's an appealing message to run on. But that message is going to be completely overshadowed if Perry keeps questioning the patriotism of everyone who doesn't agree with him. Does Perry want to be the job creator, or the flame thrower?
This post has been updated from an earlier version.
Update: Fratto isn't the only former member of Team Bush slamming Perry today. Here's Karl Rove:
"It's his first time on the national stage, and it was a very unfortunate comment. You don't accuse the chairman of the federal reserve of being a traitor to his country and being guilty of treason and suggesting that we treat him pretty ugly in Texas -- that's not, again, a presidential statement."
And from Pete Wehner, a former speechwriter and aide to George W. Bush:
Governor Perry’s announcement over the weekend was skillfully orchestrated, and he looks to be a man in possession of some impressive political skills. But what the Texas governor said about the Federal Reserve chairman is the kind of blustering, unthinking comment that Perry’s critics expect of him. Why he would play to stereotype is hard to fathom. Or, perhaps he’s simply being himself. We’ll find out soon enough.
There's been talk of some bad blood between the Bush and Perry camps, and the way these Bushites jumped all over Perry today won't help to dispel the notion.