Won’t Mitt Romney be more electable?
After being in the race for three days, Texas Governor Rick Perry is polling ahead of former front-runner Mitt Romney and trading ahead of him as well on InTrade.com.
On Tuesday, Rasmussen reported that Perry had a 29% to 18% lead over Romney among likely Republican voters they polled. Michele Bachmann was third at 13%, which is behind the undecided at 16%.
It’s exciting, for those who want Barack Obama to lose his next election, to think that there’s an appealing, principled, intelligent, electable Republican candidate. Clearly, many people think that’s what Rick Perry is, leading to this immediate bump in opinion and betting odds.
And he may well be, but Perry has some convincing to do.
As Tony Blankley said on my Sunday evening radio show, Fred Thompson never looked better than the day before he officially entered the presidential race. After that, his rapid flameout was almost hard to watch. To refresh your memory: In June 2007, just before officially entering the race, Fred Thompson held a four-point lead over then-frontrunner Rudy Giuliani in a Rasmussen poll. Two weeks earlier they had been tied, and according to Rasmussen, “prior to that time, Giuliani had been on top in every weekly Rasmussen Reports poll for five months.” By December 2007, however, Thompson was polled as losing to Obama by seven points with Giuliani only trailing Obama by two. Just a month later, in January 2008, Fred Thompson dropped out of the race. As the Associated Press described it, Thompson’s departure “capped a turbulent 10 months that saw him go from hot to not in short order.”
Perry stands a real chance of following a similar trajectory, if for different reasons.
Let’s compare Perry and Romney for a second. (Sorry, Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul fans, they just don’t have the horsepower, and I wouldn’t support Ron Paul under any circumstance because of his dangerous foreign policy views.)
Perry is, to the Republican base, at least initially appealing. He seems principled on many issues, particularly the 10th Amendment, but also has some important vulnerabilities including on the issue of immigration. As far as intelligence, it’s too early to tell, but I have to say I don’t come away from hearing him lately thinking “that guy has a big brain.” And then comes electable, and this is where I think Perry may be extremely vulnerable. He may be the worst mix of Fred Thompson and Sarah Palin.
(At least two studies, here and here, suggest that Sarah Palin, despite initially injecting some life into a moribund McCain campaign, ended up costing the presidential candidate votes by election time. The issue of Palin being the vice-presidential candidate versus Rick Perry running for president seems less important than the two each being governors, each representing a very religious social conservative viewpoint, and each offering answers that the media spun into an unfair but sticky story of a lack of intellect.)
Romney is less appealing to the Republican base than Perry is. He seems less principled on certain issues, both because he’s known to have changed his views and because of his role in passing Romneycare. There is no doubt as to his intelligence; he is clearly smarter than Perry (even if not as smart as Newt Gingrich). And then comes electable, and this is where I think Romney has an advantage over Rick Perry. Romney doesn’t generate great enthusiasm among the GOP base and the Tea Party — yet. But if it becomes clear to voters, whether Republican or independent, who want Obama out that Romney can beat him but Perry can’t, how will GOP primary voters fall?
A recent Gallup poll shows Republicans care more about electability than full agreement on policy. Furthermore, that view was more common among conservatives than among moderates, and conservatives are the vast majority of primary and caucus participants. While Gallup is not the last word on such things, these poll results stand to reason in a country with so many people who are disappointed, if not disgusted, with the performance of Barack Obama. So, the primary election Romney vs. Perry calculus will go like this: Is Mitt Romney so much more electable than Rick Perry that we’re willing to go with a guy in whom we have somewhat less confidence that he’ll uphold our conservative principles just to make sure we beat Obama?
During last Thursday’s debates in Iowa, Romney didn’t stick his foot in his mouth. And other than one recent comment about corporations being people — a view the Supreme Court agreed with in its Citizens United decision — he’s giving the left-wing media very little to work with to beat him up, though they’re just getting started.
Perry, on the other hand, began his campaign by calling Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke “almost treasonous,” or more precisely that Bernanke would be so if he “printed more money.” Perry speaks like someone whose knowledge of the Fed is limited to talking points — and someone gunning to get the support of Ron Paul voters when the time comes. When asked again, Perry stood by his comment, adding that he is “passionate about the issue.” Really? Even people who are passionate about Federal Reserve Bank issues aren’t passionate about them, again with the exception of Ron Paul and a few of his fawning disciples. Is Perry’s style going to be “passionate” about everything? Is he aiming to out-passion Mitt Romney (not that that’s an incredibly difficult task) to the nomination?
Perry also has made most of his news in the weeks prior to his official entry into the race by praying. This is simply no way to win over the must-have independent voters. To be sure, some experienced political analysts believe that Perry’s strategy here is smart: the overt religiosity, particularly it being non-Mormon, may make him more likely to get the GOP nomination, but it’s far enough away from the general election that nobody will remember it by then.
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