Rick Perry’s tough words for Ben Bernanke Monday weren’t just idle talk. By going after the Federal Reserve, he immediately brings to the forefront one of the few major policy distinctions between him and Mitt Romney.
A successful investor who is well-versed in monetary policy, Romney has been extremely wary about joining in on the Republican party’s populist revolt against the Federal Reserve over the last two years. Perry, by contrast, is clearly all too happy to ride the anti-Fed tide, perhaps making a play for some of the Bernanke haters more naturally drawn to Ron Paul.
As recently as April of this year, well after Tea Partiers had taken to vilifying Bernanke as the face of the 2008 bailout, Romney defended the Fed Chair in an interview with CNBC’s Larry Kudlow after being repeatedly pressed to criticize him for “depreciating the dollar.”
“Well, you know, I think Ben Bernanke is a student of monetary policy,” Romney said. “He’s doing as good a job as he thinks he can do in the—in the Federal Reserve. But, look, I’m not going to spend my time going after Ben Bernanke. I’m not going to take my effort and focus on the Federal Reserve. I’m going to focus my effort on the administration.”
Romney faced another tough set of questions on Bernanke from Piers Morgan on CNN in June, but he declined to attack the Fed chair, only saying that he would likely appoint someone new in the post when his term was up and did not agree with every decision by the Federal Reserve. Meanwhile, even more mainstream candidates like Tim Pawlenty enthusiastically bashed Bernanke
Harvard economic professor Greg Mankiw, an adviser to Mitt Romney for both his presidential campaigns, went much further into the pro-Fed camp this July, penning a stirring defense of Bernanke’s policies in the New York Times from critics on the left and right alike.
“Mr. Bernanke has worked tirelessly to shepherd the economy through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and yet, for all his efforts, seems vastly underappreciated,” Mankiw wrote.
If Perry pushes the issue, he could force Romney into the awkward position of defending Bernanke and the Fed on the stump, an unpopular move with many Republicans that also highlights the cultural differences between the two candidates by playing up Romney’s Wall Street ties against Perry’s modest West Texas roots. It could also bring the discussion back to TARP, which Bernanke is closely associated with, a debate that Perry used to great effect to defeat Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) in 2010, whom he labeled “Kay Bailout.” While Perry’s opposition to TARP wasn’t ironclad at the time, Romney’s past statements of support and close ties to finance make it a difficult fight for him to win.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.