We love him for the enemies he has made,” said Edward S. Bragg in his speech seconding the nomination of New York Gov. Grover Cleveland to be the Democratic candidate for president in 1884.
Republicans are saying that about Texas Gov. Rick Perry. He’s not the first Republican to be victimized by Democratic efforts to criminalize policy differences. But he could be the last.
A grand jury in Travis County (Austin), a dark blue island in the red Texas sea, has indicted Mr. Perry on two felony counts for vetoing an appropriations bill.
Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested last year after “driving for about a mile in a bike lane, swerving and veering into oncoming traffic.” Her blood alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit.
As Travis County DA, Ms. Lehmberg oversees the “Public Integrity Unit,” which prosecutes insurance fraud, motor fuels tax fraud and government corruption and is funded by the state. Outraged by her conduct, Mr. Perry demanded she resign and said he’d veto funding for the Public Integrity Unit if she didn’t. She didn’t, so he did.
For “special prosecutor” Michael McCrum, that constituted “coercing a public servant” and “abuse of power.”
Democrats make bogus criminal charges against Republicans to hurt them with voters who read only the headline “so and so was indicted.”
But there must be some ambiguity for “lawfare” to work, and the news media must be complicit. As were The Washington Post and The New York Times in June, when they trumpeted recycled charges by Democratic district attorneys in Wisconsin against Gov. Scott Walker, without mentioning that months before a state judge had ruled their witch hunt lacked probable cause; a federal judge issued an injunction to halt it.
So flimsy are the charges against Gov. Perry liberals described them as “B.S.,” “fishy,” “sketchy,” “far-fetched,” “unbelievably ridiculous,” the “stupidest thing I’ve seen in my entire career.” Stupid enough to be denounced by The New York Times and The Washington Post.
The video of Ms. Lehmberg’s booking — which has gone viral on YouTube — shows she was abusive and violent and had to be restrained. That she’s still the DA is the real abuse of power, people who watch it likely will conclude.
If the purpose of the indictment was to wound Mr. Perry as a presidential candidate, it’s backfired. Republicans — including potential rivals for the GOP nomination — have rallied behind him.
Govs. Walker and Chris Christie of New Jersey also are boosted by Mr. McCrum’s epic overreach, because more people now will think charges against them are politically motivated, wrote Michael Lind in the liberal webzine Salon. So liberals carpet-bomb the indictment, hoping to make it go away before blowback gets way out of hand.
For some liberals, outrage is genuine. The criminalization of party differences is “un-American, an extremely dangerous trend,” said law professor Alan Dershowitz.
This is “the most egregious example to date of a blatant attempt to distort the law for political ends and criminalize lawful conduct,” said former Justice Department prosecutor Sidney Powell. “Torturing statutes to create crimes out of conduct that is not criminal has become a burgeoning industry for creative prosecutors fueled by their own ambitions.”
Delegates to the Democratic National Convention in 1884 erupted in applause at Mr. Bragg’s barb, which was aimed at Tammany Hall, a charnel house of corruption. Grover Cleveland was elected that November, ending a GOP string of six consecutive victories.
Mr. Perry should fight these bogus charges as publicly as he can. After they’re thrown out, he should demand Mr. McCrum be disbarred. To end “lawfare,” we must punish those who practice it.
Which seems to be what Mr. Perry has in mind. He went on offense right away and has assembled a crackerjack legal team.
“First on the border crisis and now on his own indictment, he has shown an uncanny ability to seize the national stage and convey his impressive leadership skills,” said Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin.
“Rather than play the victim as too many conservatives do when treated unfairly … Perry is stepping out as the Republican willing — and able — to take on liberal incompetence and abuse.”
We love him for the enemies he has made.
Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1476).