Vulture Capitalists at the Lizard Thicket

Jamelle Bouie

Rick Perry on the trail at the Lizard Thicket restaurant in South Carolina Wednesday.

Lexington, South Carolina—If Rick Perry’s travel schedule is any indication, he has a real affinity for small Southern chains that tout their “real country cooking,” and serve a laundry list of desserts, cured meats, and fried poultry. This morning’s stop at the Lizard Thicket restaurant in Lexington, South Carolina, a short drive away from Columbia, the state’s capital. “We don’t endorse any of the candidates,” said Sara Krisnow, whose family owns the franchise, “This is more of a public service.”

Unlike his Monday event in Anderson, where there was too much space and too few people, this was held in more intimate surroundings—a small, closed off section of the establishment. As such, it seemed livelier, even if there weren’t as many people in the audience. And perhaps as a result, Perry seemed less subdued than he did on Monday.

As for his remarks, Perry didn’t venture far from his stump speech. Indeed, other than a small dig at New Hampshire—it's an “interesting” state, he said—there was no mention of his extraordinarily poor performance in the primary yesterday. Of course, that’s not to say that he ignored the winner of the New Hampshire primary. “At Bain Capital, he [Mitt Romney] came in and closed a photo album manufacturer in Gaffney, South Carolina, where a hundred and fifty people lost their jobs. He collected $20 million in management fees,” said Perry in an impassioned attack on the former Massachusetts governor.

Moreover, Perry pushed back against the notion that there’s something anti-capitalist about attacking Romney’s record at Bain. “I understand restructuring, I understand those types of things. But the idea that we can’t criticize someone for these get rich quick schemes is not appropriate," said Perry. “I truly think that Bain Capital could have helped these companies if they were real venture capitalists, but they’re not, they’re vulture capitalists,” he said.

But for as much as Perry has tried to reshape himself as a candidate for ordinary Americans, his performance in Lexington underscored the extent to which he—like his chief target, Mitt Romney—is far removed from the experiences of ordinary Americans.

To wit, before leaving the Lizard Thicket, Perry took a few questions from the audience. One woman—who described herself as well-educated, with a PhD and two masters degrees—explained her situation. “I’ve been looking and looking but I can’t find a job anywhere,” she said, “Right now, I work at the mall for three hours on Saturdays, but that’s not enough. What can you do for people like me?”

A more gifted politician might have turned this into a vague, if emotional, declaration about his plans to help the economy. Think Bill Clinton and his famous “I feel your pain” moment. Perry answered her question with a discussion of his tax cuts, “This is why I have proposed big cuts to income taxes, and this is why I want to flatten the rates, to create jobs.”

Herein lies Rick Perry’s problem. Even if he were better at debates, and even if he hadn’t alienated supporters with flubs and poor rhetoric, he still just isn’t good at running for president. That Republicans discovered this before he could do any damage is a stroke of good fortune.

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