I’ve never really seen Rick Perry as a GOP presidential front-runner, even though many other pundits say he’s got it in the bag. Tea partiers love him as their flavor of the moment, but he’s got so much baggage that even his most rabid supporters will eventually go running back to Michele Bachmann or Ron Paul. Or whoever else is still waiting in the wings to carry the uber-conservative banner (Chris Christie? Jeb Bush? Oscar the Grouch?)
You see, Rick Perry used to be a Democrat — a little secret he’s been trying to keep from voters like the ones who cheered loudly at the Reagan Library GOP debate as he touted the 234 executions he’s overseen as governor. Another secret he’d rather you not know about is that he likes to reward political donors a little too well, and there’s plenty of evidence of donors getting special treatment from Perry’s office. Turns out Sarah Palin may be onto something with her line about “crony capitalism.”
But the unexpected issue that could end Perry’s campaign as quickly as it started is tween girls.
Well, not the girls themselves, but his unilateral decision as Texas Governor to mandate that pre-teen girls in his state receive the three-shot vaccine series for human papilloma virus (HPV). That’s the virus that causes cervical cancer. By receiving the vaccinations, girls are protected from getting certain types of cervical cancer. That’s right — a shot that will prevent cancer. That’s a good thing, right? Perry must have embraced his inner humanitarian to make sure that reducing cancer in his state didn’t get mucked up in the machinery of the Texas legislature, so he just issued an executive order which allows him to be the ‘I’m going to punch cancer in the face‘ candidate.
It turns out that he’s stepped into some crony capitalism doo-doo mixed up with some politically conservative “no sex shots for our daughters” ideology. Perry took some serious heat from Michelle Bachmann at the CNN/Tea Party debate not only for the fact that the HPV vaccine manufacturer has made many political contributions that help Perry both directly and indirectly, but Perry’s former chief of staff is now a lobbyist for the big pharma company that makes one of the major cervical cancer vaccines. Coincidence?
Michele Bachmann pounced on this somewhat unusual political opportunity to attack Perry, using the cervical cancer vaccine issue to make her look like the champion of American children to Perry’s political backscratching. But she also painted of picture of him as a somewhat unsavory character, suggesting that he’d put children’s health at risk just to make a major donor happy:
“[Forcing] little 12-year-old girls … to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat-out wrong. … The question is, is it about life, or was it about millions of dollars and potentially billions for a drug company?”
While Bachmann has a point about the connection between Perry’s decision and connections to the drug manufacturer, she’s gone out on the deep end with claims of mental retardation side effects from the drug, which is most commonly referred to by one of its brand names, Gardasil. While there have been anecdotal reports of side-effects, as there often are with other vaccines, most doctors consider it safe. So if Bachmann is going to make any political hay out of Rick Perry’s actions surrounding the HPV vaccine, she might want to be careful with her conspiracy theories — because that will just make people start using that crazy-eyed photo of her again.
I have a feeling that no one on Perry’s staff or campaign team saw this coming as the monkey wrench that could take him out of the presidential race. If it ends up having that potential, expect Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman to jump on that bandwagon.
Joanne Bamberger is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Broad Side, and writes about the intersection of motherhood and politics at PunditMom.