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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Can the “Race Card” Save Rick Perry?

The minute the Washington Post ran a big story about a racial epithet gracing (or rather, disgracing) the entrance to a Perry family hunting retreat in Texas at some, debatable point in the not-too-distant past, I heard a number of progressives asking the question: “Is Perry finished?”
I didn’t think so then, and after a day of fervent conservative reaction defending Perry, I sure don’t think so now. So programmed are conservatives to deplore any intimations of racial insensitivity by their ideological fellows as “playing the race card” that the furor may actually be helping the Texan. Here’s a good explanation from Dan Amira at New York magazine:

[Y]ou have to consider that there are two things Republicans hate more than anything. One is being accused of racism, which has happened with increasing frequency since President Obama became president, and, if you ask Republicans, is never, ever justified. Two is unfair treatment by the allegedly biased mainstream media. So among Republicans, the widespread response to the Post story was not, “wow, Rick Perry messed up.” It was, “the liberal media is smearing another Republican as a racist!”

But that’s only half the story of how the Texas revelations might wind up helping Perry: in the richest of ironies, the saga is probably going to hurt, perhaps seriously, the campaign of African-American Herman Cain, who had the temerity to criticize Perry for apparent racial insensitivity. Amira’s piece features a number of tweets from erstwhile Cain fans going ballistic on him for colluding in a “smear” of Perry. Paul Waldman explains how Cain is going to wind up being accused of a racist attack on the Texan:

Cain hasn’t been shy about talking about race, and has offered himself as a living rebuke to the idea that black people should automatically support Democrats. But he apparently didn’t quite get that he’s become Republicans’ New Black Friend. A big part of his job is to show the world, just by his presence, that conservatives aren’t racists. But that means buying into the prevailing conservative narrative on race, which says that anti-black racism is a thing of the past, and the only racism that exists anymore is racism directed at white people. And the critical corollary is that there is no more vile kind of racism than white people being falsely accused of racism.

With Cain palpably taking support away from Perry over the last couple of weeks, this weird dynamic could go a long way toward ending Perry’s free-fall in the polls. If you didn’t know better, you’d almost suspect one of Perry’s Texas buddies planted the whole story in the Post.

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