Opinion Brief

Rick Perry's Social Security attacks: Do elderly voters approve?

The GOP's presidential frontrunner brands Social Security a "Ponzi scheme," but he's still trouncing his rivals in the polls — even among the 65+ set

During Monday night's GOP presidential debate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry's rivals kept hitting him over his description of Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme." And over the weekend, Mitt Romney sent Florida voters a flyer calling Perry "reckless and wrong on Social Security," and warning that the Texan wants to "kill" the program. But if this is an effort to hobble Perry among older voters, it doesn't seem to be working, according to a new CNN poll. Not only is Perry beating Romney among all GOP voters — 32 percent to 21 percent — but Perry is also crushing Romney among the 65+ set by an impressive 52 percent to 21 percent. Is questioning the viability of Social Security actually helping Perry among seniors?

Social Security certainly isn't hurting Perry: The CNN polls is a pretty unambiguous endorsement of Perry's Social Security politics, says Byron York at The Washington Examiner. If the "voters most affected by the issue" don't care, Perry should either "stick with his 'Ponzi scheme' critique," or keep the same it's-broken message while toning down "those incindiary words" — essentially what he did in a new USA Today op-ed. It's Romney and Co. who need a Plan B.
"Despite Social Security, older voters like Perry"

And Republicans can't attack Perry from the left: "A fair chunk of the GOP's hardcore base actually agrees with the basic sentiment Perry expressed" on Social Security, says Steve Kornacki at Salon. But even those who don't agree find it galling that Romney is hitting Perry by using "the same scare tactics that Democrats are so fond of" on entitlements. That's a problematic primary strategy for a moderate ex-governor of Massachusetts trying to woo conservative activists.
"Was Rick Perry's real Achilles' heel just exposed?"

Hold on. Perry's rhetoric is toxic: Don't be fooled, says Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo. Perry's fierce attacks on Social Security in his book Fed Up! — published only last year — are still clearly haunting him. The book "is just a massive obstacle to Perry's run." Obviously, he didn't plan on running for president when he wrote it. "Now he's stuck with it." Social Security "is becoming for Perry what [health insurance] mandates have been for Romney. Just can't thread the needle, [and] trying to walk it back just becomes a muddle."
"Debate live-blogging"

Give Perry credit — he knows exactly what he's doing: Perry's "wholesale attack on the Social Security system" is a lot like his much-discussed nod in 2010 to a possible Texas secession, says Matthew Dowd at National Journal. Pundits interpreted that remark as a huge misstep, but Perry knew better. By courting controversy on Social Security, Perry not only taps into a GOP belief that the federal government is broken and dishonest, but also scores points for looking "authentic and true."
"Is Rick Perry the Br'er Rabbit of the Republican field?"

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