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.
That’s a bold bet for Perry to make, however, as shown by the left-leaning New Republic already saying that Perry’s “conversion to radical evangelism” is nothing more than political opportunism. One piece of evidence means little, but you can bet that someone, whether Romney (again, not without risk in the area of changing his views) or Barack Obama, will point out a second huge change in the Texas governor: Perry was formerly a Democrat and served as Al Gore’s Texas state chairman for Gore’s 1988 presidential campaign. Perry’s public religion opens him up to questions of flip-flopping; he’s very fortunate that Mitt Romney isn’t in a strong position to cast those stones.
Whether the conservative GOP base likes it or not, many moderate voters will turned off by Perry’s combination of overt religiosity and political campaigning. How many Americans want to hear about a “loving and perfect god (who) is also a personal god” from a man who seems at least as home playing preacher as running for president? How many Americans want a president who believes, as Rick Perry said in a September 2010 interview, that he is “a firm believer in intelligent design as a matter of faith and intellect, and… believes it should be presented in schools alongside the theories of evolution”? Perry’s religiosity is certainly a double-edged sword.
It’s hardly a secret that winning independent and moderate voters is the key to winning elections in America today, so it is far from clear that Perry’s preacher-like style is a winning strategy for the general election. And if GOP primary goers reach that conclusion, it’s not a huge intellectual leap for them to say “we’re going with the candidate more likely to beat Obama.”
ALLOW ME TO PUT this to you, dear anti-Obama reader: What’s more important to you, beating Barack Obama or having an evangelical commander-in-chief? What’s more important to you, beating Barack Obama or not electing Mitt Romney?
If it’s the former in these questions, then this issue should concern you because Perry will turn off independent voters in droves with his prayers, his hyperbolic statements, and, like it or not, his drawl, which occasionally sounds like a slightly drunk love child of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Romney is an uninspiring candidate on some levels, but he has the best economic credentials in the field and that’s the most important issue facing the electorate today. For me, in this election season, electability is itself inspiring.
Yes, Texas has created a tremendous number of new jobs and yes, Perry gets some of the credit. But it is not obvious that Perry will be able to explain it well enough. He may come across as, in part, the beneficiary of a happy accident of happening to be in Texas when things other than his leadership, such as high energy prices, were the primary drivers of job growth; certainly his opponents will make that argument. Again, I’m not downplaying the success of Texas or even the success of Perry, but Romney will still come across as the stronger candidate when it comes to economics and jobs. Romney, ever the CEO, will offer soothing but aggressive competence; Perry will, if recent days are any clue, offer bombast.
Despite the results in 2008, bombast usually doesn’t win elections. Americans realize that voting for the big talker really hurt them last time. They’re not going to want a literal and figurative cowboy, at least the independent voters won’t. And do people really want another Texas governor after the Bush fatigue of 2006-2008?
Liberals often argue that the Republican Party is too extreme to appeal to the center. While the 2010 congressional elections, not to mention hundreds of other elections since the founding of the Republican Party, put the lie to that claim, that doesn’t mean that any given Republican can’t fit that definition. If Rick Perry does not stop staking out the furthest right positions among the Republican field (with the possible exception of Rick Santorum on social issues), he will be too extreme to appeal to the center. Indeed, he will be too extreme to appeal to me and to many of my libertarian-leaning Republican and independent friends. Just because liberals might argue that Rick Perry is too extreme doesn’t mean he isn’t.
SO THAT TAKES ME BACK to my main question: If GOP voters come to believe that nobody outside the GOP base would vote for Rick Perry, and that therefore an Obama victory is more likely than not with a Perry nomination, will the GOP base hold its collective nose and nominate the probably-more-electable Mitt Romney?
The out-of-the-gate betting odds on Rick Perry earning the GOP nomination, or at least the gap with Mitt Romney, were too high. He shouldn’t have been 8 points ahead of Romney at this stage of the game. It’s too far until the election, too many debates still to come, and it’s hard to see how Mitt Romney doesn’t have an advantage in those debates, though they both have about equally great hair.
It seems I’m not alone in this analysis since in the last 24 hours, Perry’s betting odds to get the nomination have dropped from over 38% down to 33% and Romney has gained a point from 30% to 31%. (Strangely, Jon Huntsman who has as much chance of being the nominee as I do is trading over 6%, with Michele Bachmann also trading around that level. And, although I don’t think it makes sense, Paul Ryan is also trading in the 6% range to get the nomination and nearly 30% to announce a run for the presidency. My motto: Paul Ryan for President in 2020!)
My singular political goal — a goal shared by millions — is the defeat of Barack Obama so that he doesn’t get four more years to defeat America. So, among the current GOP field (but not including Ron Paul) I’ll support whomever I believe to be the most electable Republican, period.
I’m open to hearing what Rick Perry has to say, but if he keeps coming across more like a preacher than a president, a cowboy more than a competent executive, then in a two-man race with Mitt Romney, I’ll support Romney without hesitation.