Next week — as everyone in the universe now knows — Rick Perry will appear in a televised debate at the Reagan Library in California. The debate will be Perry’s first as a presidential candidate, and it takes place on what is virtually hallowed ground for Republicans.
But Perry will walk in facing questions about one of Reagan’s favorite projects: the Strategic Defense Initiative, nicknamed “Star Wars.” On the trail recently, Perry’s been trying to deflect his past as a Democrat and supporter of Al Gore’s first presidential bid. One method of doing that has been playing down Gore’s 1988 position on “Star Wars” or SDI.
But as ABC News’ Michael Falcone points out, Perry’s SDI talk is somewhat short of the mark.
Perry’s past as a Democrat is one of the things that could plague him as he ramps up his campaign for the White House. Famously, Perry was a big player in Gore’s ‘88 bid in Texas, part of his longer past as a Democratic elected official in the Lone Star State.
Republicans have been asking Perry a lot about the Gore connection, and this has been one of Perry’s explanations as reported by Falcone:
“I was a Democrat in my days in the Legislature in the 80s and I was under the false idea that somehow or another that conservative Democrats could save the Democrat Party. They couldn’t,” Perry said in an interview with conservative talk show host Sean Hannity on Tuesday. “Al Gore appeared to be the most conservative — a strong Strategic Defense Initiative guy — and frankly we thought that he would be the most conservative Democrat. You, know, we were wrong.”
Emphasis added. The only trouble with that explanation is that Gore repeatedly criticized SDI on the campaign trail, and said he was more opposed to its development than supportive. From ABC:
In a January 1988 interview with Florida’s St. Petersburg Times, Gore was asked whether he would support increasing research funds for the initiative. His response: no way.
“I oppose absolutely any plan for development or deployment of the Strategic Defense Initiative system,” Gore said. “Research on SDI should be confined to a strict interpretation of the ABM treaty. The focus of this research should be to assure that we have a state-of-the-art understanding of the basic science and technology that could be relevant to defense.”
Perry’s Gore problem is an arguable one — Perry’s got the backing of the tea party and it seems that conservatives are ready to let bygones be bygones here. But Perry is trying to make a case that his support for Gore came from the Tennessee Democrat’s 1988 conservatism, which Perry said is exemplified by his support for one of Regan’s signature initiatives. The only problem is, that support isn’t there.
The Perry camp did not respond to ABC’s request for comment.