For a governor who is thinking about mounting a presidential campaign, mastering the art of emergency politics is an effective way to convince the general public that you have the managerial skills necessary to lead the nation in times of distress. You don't even have to do much, really, you just have to not make things visibly worse while speaking in an authoritative tone and looking concerned for the huddled masses. Oh, and you have to be there. Physically. Like, your body has to be in the state you govern.
Given how easy all of that sounds, it seems odd that Texas Governor Rick Perry would fail to cancel a scheduled trip to Europe as his state grapples with two ongoing cases of Ebola and several dozens of other potential cases. That and incompetence at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital may have caused the deadly disease to spread.
Perry took off for England, Germany, Poland, and Ukraine for a "economic development trip" earlier this week, only cutting it short after a second case of Ebola was confirmed in Dallas on Tuesday night.
Texas Democrats pounced on Perry's absence. Will Hailer, the Texas Democratic Party's executive director, called Perry "an irresponsible leader who's not paying attention to Texas." Hailer dinged Perry for the fact that his schedule seems more about the GOP presidential primary that the crisis in Texas: "An economic development trip two months before the end of your term, in between jet-setting to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, clearly shows that this is a development trip for Perry."
Perry spokesperson said in a statement to The Daily Beast he's not dodging.
"Gov. Perry has consistently demonstrated leadership in times of crisis. This is no exception. He swiftly put a world class task force together to access and provide real time updates and recommendations," she said, referring to the 15-member task fore led by Texas A&M's Dr. Brett P. Giroir that was formed prior to Thomas Eric Duncan's death from the virus. "He has remained in close contact with state and federal officials and cut his economic development trip short to return to Texas."
Perry has himself criticized others for being absent from their posts.
In 2012, as a presidential candidate, Perry needled President Barack Obama for playing golf instead of working, as if to suggest that any time off at all could lead to disaster. In a fundraising pitch, his campaign manager asked donors to give $76, because Obama had played 76 rounds of golf since entering the White House.
"In honor of his prodigious gold habit, I ask you to donate $76 today –– a dollar for each round of gold Obama has played since becoming president…" Later in the campaign, Perry gave a speech in which he used the trick again: "Three and a half years, and nearly 100 rounds of golf into his presidency, Barack Obama. has exploded the federal debt…."
And Perry surely witnessed the public's overwhelmingly positive reaction to the opposite behavior while he was running for president, when Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast, and New Jersey's Chris Christie used the disaster to give the political performance of a lifetime. It was a very different sort of crisis, sure, but Christie's presence shot his approval rating up, helping make him the frontrunner for the GOP nomination in 2016 until Bridgegate.
None of this is to say that Perry was actually wrong to take the trip, or that his very presence in the Lone Star State would've done anything at all to fix the Ebola crisis. But, having himself campaigned by hitting others for their lack of involvement, Perry obviously understands the optics of crisis. I's anyone's guess as to why he's been blind to this one.