It's no secret that Texas Gov. Rick Perry is a "no-apologies conservative" — but not all voters know the new Republican frontrunner used to be a Democrat. Perry spent several years as a Democrat in the Texas state House — and always clearly had conservative leanings — before officially switching parties in 1989. Will his somewhat forgotten, blue-tinted past affect his bid for the GOP presidential nomination? Here are four questions that might come up in the campaign:
1. When did Perry sour on the social safety net?
These days, Perry believes "Social Security and Medicare are public policy blunders and are probably unconstitutional," says Mark R. Yzaguirre at FrumForum. But back when he was a Democratic state lawmaker, pretty much everyone on his side of the aisle supported both programs. Perry seems to suggest, as Ronald Reagan did, that he didn't leave the Democrats, but that instead, they abandoned him by lurching left. But the fundamental liberal position on Social Security and Medicare hasn't changed since 1968, so primary voters will want and deserve to know when Perry changed his mind, and why.
2. Why the abrupt jump from blue to red?
It's not as if Perry underwent some gradual ideological transformation, says Alan Colmes at Liberaland. He was Al Gore's Texas state chair in 1988 when the Tennessee Democrat ran for president the first time. Perry has since suggested that his experience with Gore served as a sort of road-to-Damascus moment that helped push Perry to "the side of the angels." But there are still plenty of questions of what, exactly, motivated Perry to switch sides.
3. Is Perry just masking his old Democratic beliefs?
Perry isn't alone in switching sides — the Left, with its "welfare boondoggle," has driven plenty of fiscally conservative Democrats into the arms of the GOP, says Will Malven at The Houston Conservative. Even as a Democrat, Perry was a "fierce fiscal conservative always arguing for more austere budgets," and his conservative views have "never wavered." Still, skeptics are sure to wonder whether Perry's "just another smooth talking closet moderate (or even liberal) who has adopted a conservative facade out of political expediency." He isn't — but Perry must be prepared to set disbelievers straight.
4. And what about Perry's past votes for tax increases?
"A raging liberal he was not," says Jay Root in The New York Times. Perry was, after all, a former rancher and Air Force pilot representing rural Texans. But he did "cast some votes and took a few stands that seem to be at odds" with his Tea Party conservatism today. "The most vivid example is his support of the $5.7 billion tax hike in 1987, which was opposed by most Republican lawmakers and "triggered the largest tax increase ever passed in modern Texas." Oops.