Presidential hopeful and Texas Governor Rick Perry drew rebukes from fellow Republicans and the White House on Tuesday for remarks seen as threats of violence against US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
Campaigning in the heartland state of Iowa, Perry warned on Monday that he would view attempts by Bernanke to boost the US economy before the elections in November next year as “almost treasonous” and invoked the specter of mob justice.
“If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don’t know what y’all would do to him in Iowa — but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas,” Perry told supporters at a backyard get-together.
“I mean, printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous — or treasonous, in my opinion,” Perry said, with US President Barack Obama also in Iowa on a campaign-style swing.
The White House fired back on Tuesday, with spokesman Jay Carney telling reporters traveling with Obama: “When you’re running for president, you have to think about what you’re saying, because your words have greater impact.”
“We take the independence of the Federal Reserve quite seriously,” he said.
Perry also took fire from fellow Republicans — including several former aides to former US president George W. Bush, who first named Bernanke to the post — who warned he was damaging his White House bid.
Bush political guru Karl Rove warned on Fox News Business television that the comments sounded like Perry was going to “take him [Bernanke] out behind the barn and whup him” and warned the candidate “did not help his cause.”
“To accuse Bernanke of being a traitor to his country — treason is a crime punishable by death — to say you are going to treat him pretty ugly if he was down in Texas, this was unpresidential and unnecessary,” Rove said.
Perry, whom polls show nipping at frontrunner Mitt Romney’s heels, may have stoked worries among some voters who could be wondering “is he going to be too much of a cowboy?” Rove said.
Former White House spokesman Tony Fratto took to Twitter to call the comments “inappropriate and unpresidential.”
Another former Bush aide, Peter Wehner, said in a blog post that “people shouldn’t throw around the words ‘almost treasonous’ loosely and certainly a person running for president shouldn’t do such a thing.”
“To say someone is treasonous means he is a traitor to his country. In the long catalogue of crimes an individual can commit, there are not many that are worse than treason,” Wehner said on the Web site of Commentary magazine.
The assault on Bernanke came amid deep skepticism among core Republican voters about the role the US Federal Reserve plays in steadying the economy and worries about stubbornly high unemployment.
Asked for further comment, Perry campaign spokesman Mark Miner said: “The governor was expressing his frustration with the current economic situation and the out-of-control spending that persists in Washington.”
Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Melanie Rousell dismissed Perry’s broadside as “inflammatory schoolboy taunts” that left other Republican candidates “looking positively thoughtful.”
She also invoked Perry’s past controversial remarks suggesting Texas might secede, saying he “would have needed a passport to visit Iowa if he had his way.”