In the days immediately following his indictment by a Travis County grand jury, Texas Gov. Rick Perry saw support rally to his side from all across the political world. Conservatives here and at National Review and everywhere else noted how weak and political the indictment is. Liberals like Jonathan Chait, the New York Times, David Axelrod, Lanny Davis and Alan Dershowitz questioned the indictment from the left. Perry became an unlikely unifying figure, and much of the early news about the indictment focused not on him but on Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg and her drunk driving arrest — the arrest that ended up getting Perry indicted for exercising his constitutional veto power over state funding for an office that Lehmberg controls.
Even Perry’s mugshot turned out to be a victory.
Gov. Perry built up a solid legal team that has pushed back against the indictment vigorously, a team that includes Texas defense attorneys and Mark Fabiani, as liberal a Democrat attorney and political strategist as there is. Fabiani’s hire signaled just how outrageous the indictment truly is.
But following that hire, Gov. Perry has added two Republicans strategists to his team and their additions are stirring up skepticism and opposition on the right — Steve Schmidt and Henry Barbour.
Schmidt is best known among the conservative grassroots for bashing former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin years after her and Sen. John McCain’s failed run for the presidency in 2008. Both Schmidt and Nicole Wallace were 2008 McCain campaign advisers whose bashing of Palin and other conservatives in the years since has made them unpopular figures among Tea Party supporters and the GOP grassroots.
Wallace recently joined ABC’s The View. Wallace’s and Schmidt’s actions following the 2008 defeat have not been forgotten, not by a long shot. Both seem happy to resurrect problems from that campaign and blame them on others, either Palin or conservatives, not themselves for running a terrible, flaky, indecisive, and ultimately unsuccessful campaign.
Henry Barbour is known for a more recent transgression, smearing conservatives during the controversial Mississippi primary battle between Sen. Thad Cochran and state Sen. Chris McDaniel. Breitbart, usually a Perry supporting conservative news operation, is reminding readers today of Barbour’s role in that race, and of efforts to get the Republican National Committee to censure Barbour.
Conservative leader Brent Bozell has called for Barbour’s censure.
“Mr. Barbour and his allies in the Mississippi political establishment smeared State Senator Chris McDaniel and his conservative supporters as racists and hired Democratic operatives to engage in scare tactics to turn out Democrats to vote for incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran. These are the tactics of the radical left and must not be tolerated by the Republican Party.
“What was done to Senator McDaniel and Mississippi conservatives was dishonest and disgusting and must not stand. Using the tactics of the far left to wage a character assassination campaign against a Republican state senator and his supporters is unconscionable.
“Those who were involved in any way must be held accountable. We call on Chairman Priebus to remove Mr. Barbour to send a clear message that there is no place in the Republican Party for this kind of character assassination and smear campaign. Should further investigation uncover other accomplices, they, too, should be held accountable for their despicable actions.”
Conservative radio titan Mark Levin is also angrily questioning the decision to hire Schmidt, “conservative-attacker and Palin-hater?”
While Schmidt has been brought on board to help out with Perry’s indictment defense, Barbour has been hired to help with the burgeoning Perry campaign. Barbour has a direct political role at a time when conservatives are calling for the RNC to discipline him.
Fabiani’s hire made political sense, as it demonstrates that even many prominent Democrats believe that the Travis County indictment of Perry is outrageous and dangerous. But Barbour and Schmidt are causing Perry an unnecessary headache on the right, where up to now he has found strong support against the indictment while voters in key early primary states are taking a second look at him.
Adding Schmidt and Barbour to his legal team also exposes Perry to criticism on the right from potential presidential rivals, who up to now have been supportive as well.