Zac Morgan wrote a great piece here at FrumForum where he described how Texas Governor Rick Perry is in a unique position to unite different factions of the GOP. Morgan described Perry as the “Teastablishment” candidate. While much of the attention has focused on Perry’s Tea Party and religious conservative strengths, I’d like to discuss the establishment side of his political capital, namely his ability to access a key financial pillar of the GOP donor base – wealthy Texas Republicans.
Perry is a prodigious fundraiser and has raised over $100 million in his gubernatorial campaigns. He is not uncomfortable meeting a group of businessmen in a boardroom and this has always been a strong point for him. While his rhetoric may be populist, he doesn’t use rhetoric that can come off as a type of right-wing class warfare. (Unlike some conservatives like Sarah Palin). This is helpful in fundraising and in making affluent voters feel comfortable with a candidate.
If Perry runs, he will have first-class access to the Texas Republican donor base. While this may seem obvious and would be true regarding the local donor base of any Governor from a given state, I’d suggest this is of particular importance given Texas’s economic strength and historic role in modern conservative politics. On the first point, Texas has had a better time of it during this recession and thus there is a fair amount of money on the table. More importantly, the Texas conservative donor base has long been a source for donations that runs independently from other conservative donor bases. At its best, it’s acted as a counterbalance to the East Coast or California GOP establishments. At its worst, it can fund some admittedly cranky stuff. (For more information on both, I suggest that anyone reading this pick up a copy of Brian Burrough’s The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes for some historical context.)
While times have changed since the era described in Burrough’s book, one can still say there is a Texas conservative establishment that follows its own path and has real power. A candidate who can dominate that constituency has a major leg up on his or her opponents and Rick Perry is in a position to do that. Doing so will place him in a strong financial position, and one that can encourage donors in other parts of the country to join his bandwagon.
Rick Perry hasn’t announced whether he’s running for the GOP presidential nomination (though it looks like that’s around the corner), so one can’t make head-to-head comparisons at this time. Also, other GOP candidates are very much in the hunt regarding Texas donors. For example, Mitt Romney has raised serious funds in Texas and Jon Huntsman has former Congressman Tom Loeffler (a major Texas GOP fundraiser) in his corner. But Perry is in a unique position to capture much of this constituency, and this constituency has an outsized influence in Republican politics. That is a strength that should not be overlooked.