When Texas Gov. Rick Perry was indicted last month on two felony charges stemming from how he dealt with a misbehaving Democratic state official, the image of the stuttering 2012 Republican primary challenger was replaced with that of a hero-cowboy in the eyes of many conservatives. Perry was under attack from the left wing, and his response was not to apologize but to walk through a hail of blue-hued bullets and emerge laughing, without a mark on him. But some conservative true believers have begun to notice something rather suspicious: The company Perry keeps seems more suited to a mainstream Republican—or a right-of-center Democrat—than to their hero-cowboy.
Perry is associated with three operatives who have concerned some members of the die-hard right wing: lobbyist Henry Barbour, former Bill Clinton aide Mark Fabiani, and McCain-Palin campaign chief and MSNBC pundit Steve Schmidt.
Well, maybe “concerned” is putting it somewhat mildly.
“The only two options are that Rick Perry is a complete imbecile and he has no idea who these people are and what they’ve done and how the conservative base—who votes in primaries—feels about these guys, or he’s doing it on purpose because that’s the kind of message he wants to send,” said Keli Carender, the national grassroots coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots. Either way, she assured: “It will be an issue. We will make it an issue.”
Barbour is already working on Perry’s 2016 bid for the White House. But conservatives know him best for his role running the political action committee Mississippi Conservatives, founded by his uncle, Haley Barbour, the former governor of Mississippi. In this year’s Magnolia State primary fight—and “fight” is an understatement—between U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and state Sen. Chris McDaniel, Barbour reportedly played an influential and controversial role.According to National Review, his PAC funneled money to produce ads against McDaniel that alleged he would set back “race relationships between blacks and whites and other ethnic groups.” The ads, which seemed intended to drive African-American voters to the polls, enraged McDaniel’s Tea Party supporters.
As reported by Breitbart News, some conservatives loathe Barbour so much that they tried to get the Republican National Committee to censure him, to no avail.
“Republicans should not hire Henry Barbour unless and until he apologizes for the tactics he helped fund in Mississippi...I don’t think [keeping Barbour around] necessarily means Perry is endorsing what he did, but it means he’s certainly not properly condemning it or taking it seriously enough,” Quin Hillyer, a conservative writer and activist, told The Daily Beast. “What he helped finance was so far beyond the pale that he should be blackballed by conservatives, and if Perry wants to be considered a conservative, he should no longer employ Henry Barbour.”
Rick Shaftan, a Republican consultant who involved himself in the Mississippi primary, offered a somewhat different view of Barbour to The Daily Beast: “I don’t like what he did in Mississippi, but you know what? It shows he’s a ruthless, cutthroat operative, and there’s something to be said for that on the Republican side. Because we don’t have enough of them. If the force of evil can be brought to do good, then that’s a good thing.”
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