Give the States' Rights...But Not Too Many.

As a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, Texas Governor Rick Perry’s claim to fame is his devotion to states’ rights. Under Perry, Texas has pushed the federal government for greater autonomy in the operation of programs like Medicaid, where states are responsible for delivering services and hewing to federal mandates. Perry has also flirted with “Tentherism” -- the view that states can reclaim “rightful” power through the Tenth Amendment -- and outright secession. For example, here’s what Perry had to say about Texas and the Union at a Tea Party rally in 2009: “We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that.”

As The New York Times reports, conservatives are divided on how they view this rhetoric. For some, Perry’s advocacy for states’ rights is hollow and insincere; yes, the Texas governor sued the federal government for more autonomy over Medicaid, but he also took $17 billion in stimulus funds to help close Texas’ budget deficit, and he accepted a federal grant for the purpose of implementing a provision from the Affordable Care Act.

For other conservatives, Perry is playing a dangerous game. If applied consistently, Perry’s preference for federalism would preclude federal attempts to restrict abortion and ban same-sex marriage. Earlier this summer, Majorie Dennenfelser -- president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List -- chided Perry for his focus on the Tenth Amendment: “We agree that certainly there is a lot that can be done at the state level to reduce the number of abortions, but that does not diminish or eliminate the federal government’s responsibility to protect human life in all of its stages.”

Perry has already moved to reassure social conservatives. He’s told Family Research Council head Tony Perkins that he supports the Federal Marriage Amendment, and he most recently signed a pledge that calls for sweeping federal action against abortion. If elected president, signatories are expected to nominate anti-abortion judges, select anti-abortion appointees for executive-branch positions, and advance legislation to “permanently end all taxpayer funding of abortion in all domestic and international spending programs.”

Even with these adjustments, Perry continues to present himself as a fighter for state sovereignty. But given the extent to which conservatives have an incredibly shallow commitment to federalism on the issues that they care about, you should expect the Texas governor to dial back his states’ rights fervor even further.

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