Most of the GOP establishment is uncomfortable with Rick Perry. Few have openly attacked the Texas governor, as Karl Rove did when Perry criticized Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. However, the grumblings of former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, a number of former Bush aides, and sundry other Republican luminaries have made it clear that they would prefer to see Mitt Romney as the GOP standard-bearer in 2012. Even inveterate RINO-basher Ann Coulter has said "Romney could actually beat Obama" and that Perry "won't live up to expectations." Coulter and the GOP establishment are wrong. Not only is Perry the favorite of rank-and-file Republicans, he is far better positioned than Romney to debate the President on the two issues that will inevitably dominate next year's campaign -- jobs and health care.
On jobs, Perry has a story to tell that Romney can't hope to match. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, "Some 37% of all net new American jobs since the recovery began were created in Texas." While most states have experienced anemic job growth since June of 2009, and eighteen governors have watched their states endure actual declines in growth, Governor Perry has presided over a state economy that has added 265,300 new jobs. That makes Texas the most prolific job generator in the nation. By contrast, Mitt Romney's record on job creation is lackluster at best. Job growth during his single term as Governor of Massachusetts was less than one percent, which "badly lagged other high-skill, high-wage, knowledge economy states like New York (2.7%), California (4.7%) and North Carolina (7.6%)."
Consider this in the context of the upcoming presidential campaign: Rick Perry can contrast Obama's truly pathetic record on jobs with his own remarkable success. He can stand before the country in a debate and call out the President on his failed big-government agenda and say, as Charles Krauthammer recently phrased it, "Smaller government, I made it work, I created jobs." Romney, on the other hand, simply can't press the President on unemployment without being reminded that the Bay State "ranked 47th in the entire country in jobs growth" during his term as Massachusetts Governor. In other words, while Perry can go on the offensive, Romney would be reduced to defending his own record rather than highlighting Obama's abysmal performance on the economy.
Romney's inability to press the President on job creation would be compounded by his impotence on Obamacare. At least half of the voters are still seething about that pernicious piece of legislation and the political skulduggery that was used to ram it down their throats. These voters will expect the Republican presidential nominee to go after the President on Obamacare, and Romney is utterly toothless on that issue. Why? The two-thousand page monstrosity that the White House and its legions of allies in the "news" media hilariously call the "Affordable Care Act" was modeled after the Massachusetts "universal coverage" legislation that Romney himself signed into law in 2006. And that ill-conceived law, commonly known as Romneycare, has been a fiscal and medical disaster for the Bay State.
Thus, Romney can't criticize Obamacare's many offensive features without looking like a cheap political flip-flopper. He cannot, for example, credibly denounce the egregious individual mandate because it is modeled after a similar provision of Romneycare. Nor will his oft-repeated point that the Massachusetts mandate was enacted at the state level, and is therefore constitutional, cut much ice with the voters. They will be less interested in arcane nuances of the Commerce Clause than in the fact that they will be forced to buy government-approved insurance whether they want it or not. Likewise, Romney can't hit the President for producing a "reform" law that Obama's own administration admits will increase rather than decrease medical costs. His own health care "reform" law produced identical results.
Rick Perry suffers from none of Romney's disabilities on health care. First, he isn't burdened by a failed health care albatross that will prevent him from aggressively going after the President on Obamacare. Unlike Romney, he can vehemently denounce the insurance mandate as an unconstitutional attack on individual liberty without having any similar abomination in his own record thrown back in his face. Moreover, because his record in Texas has emphasized the free market rather than state interference, he can credibly denounce the President's top-down approach to health care reform. While Romney must live down an Obama-like inclination toward government-imposed solutions, Perry's record demonstrates a clear bias in the other direction and allows him to more freely criticize Obama's big-government philosophy.
This, of course, begs the following question: How do the results of Perry's approach compare to those of Romney's? Well, as Avik Roy recently put it, "If you're most concerned about runaway government spending, Perry is the clear winner. If the rising cost of health insurance is your primary worry, Perry wins there too." Among the reasons Perry wins in these areas is tort reform. In 2003, Perry convinced Texas voters to approve a cap on non-economic medical malpractice damages for physicians and hospitals. This initiative not only helped control the rise of health care costs due to defensive medicine, it helped deliver Texas from a growing problem that still bedevils Massachusetts -- physician shortages. In fact, tort reform has worked so well in this regard that the New York Times reluctantly reported its success.
And success on the issues that concern the actual voters, rather than the opinions of establishment retreads, is the only foundation upon which any Republican can build a 2012 victory over Barack Obama. Regardless of which candidate wins the GOP presidential nomination, the President and his minions will use the same strategy. Because they cannot run on their record, they will promulgate a few disingenuous talking points about the real issues and then launch a vicious campaign of personal vilification. Only a candidate with the support of rank-and-file Republicans, including Tea Partiers, and a clear record of success on jobs and health care will be able to survive and overcome this strategy. Rick Perry has what it takes and Mitt Romney doesn't.
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