Say what you will about Donald Trump, but he does have a knack for identifying people’s weaknesses. In a primary campaign full of memorable jabs, Trump’s best insult was one of his first. Targeting Perry, who would drop out of the race shortly thereafter, he said, “He put on glasses so people think he’s smart. People can see through the glasses.”
When running for president in 2012, Perry famously forgot the third government department—the Department of Energy—that he wanted to cut. Five weeks ago, Trump nominated Perry to lead that department and he accepted. And on Wednesday evening, The New York Times and Politico published stories suggesting that Perry did not know what the Energy Department did—including its principle task of regulating nuclear arms and energy—until after he accepted Trump’s offer. The Times reports:
When President-elect Donald J. Trump offered Rick Perry the job of energy secretary five weeks ago, Mr. Perry gladly accepted, believing he was taking on a role as a global ambassador for the American oil and gas industry that he had long championed in his home state.
In the days after, Mr. Perry, the former Texas governor, discovered that he would be no such thing — that in fact, if confirmed by the Senate, he would become the steward of a vast national security complex he knew almost nothing about, caring for the most fearsome weapons on the planet, the United States’ nuclear arsenal.
Perry’s views about the department have shifted, however—as, reportedly, have his views on climate science. At his hearing today, Perry plans on repudiating his call to scrap the DoE. “My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking,” Perry plans to say, according to Politico. “In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination.”
Michael McKenna, a former Perry adviser who has worked on the Trump transition, described Perry’s arc to the Times: “If you asked him on that first day he said yes, he would have said, ‘I want to be an advocate for energy.’ If you asked him now, he’d say, ‘I’m serious about the challenges facing the nuclear complex.’ It’s been a learning curve.” Perry may be learning, but no one would confuse him with a nuclear scientist. The problem is, he’ll be replacing one at the Department of Energy.
Update: The Times is facing some criticism for basing its reporting on a sole source, McKenna, who claims his quote was taken out of context. Others have noted that Perry appeared to be aware of the Department of Energy’s remit from the day he was nominated. But was Perry aware of what the Department of Energy did when he called for abolishing it? This is a serious question.