Politics. Why not.
So, as a current Texan--god, I hate that--I've got some thoughts on Rick Perry. They're not particularly revolutionary, but I sense a lot of my non-Texan, liberal friends are suddenly scared of Mr. Perry which, frankly, they probably should be. He's terrifying.
At first. And that's sort of the genius of him, really. He cuts a swaggering and invulnerable figure in Texas and as a national candidate, he really seems uniquely suited to take on the president--religious, Tea Party-approved, perceived to be anomalously successful economically over the last few years, and, perhaps most importantly, folksy and headstrong in a way that contrasts wildly with the president. So why did major Republicans make a renewed push to lure a Chris Christie or a Paul Ryan into the race immediately after Perry entered? O, right, there's the little matter of him being exactly like George W. Bush only, somehow, worse.
That might seem unfair. Perry is, after all, his own man, yet one can't listen to him speak without immediately thinking of our 43rd president. It's almost bizarre how identical Perry-the-candidate is to Bush-the-candidate. All the policies are the same—and, again, sometimes worse—only this time Perry doesn't have to bother with wrapping himself in some moderating blanket like "Compassionate conservative." That's good because he probably wouldn't be able to pull it off half as well and bad because, well, Perry's still got to convince the rest of the non-Tea Party world to vote for him.
And this is where anyone concerned with Rick Perry should calm down. George W. Bush remains wildly unpopular and, as much as anything else, this should put a damper on his general election hopes. You might think it's superficial, but it's a real issue for Republicans and they know it. All the conservatives who now claim never to have liked the second Bush are obviously ready to move on in the cause of anyone-but-Obama, but for the rest of us, a serious Perry campaign would mean asking hard questions about the last administration and whether or not we're willing to risk a return to it. And then there's this: George W. could come off as a common man, Rick Perry--far more common in background and education--comes off as an arrogant bully and a substantially less intelligent one than our former president.
This is not to say a Perry campaign is hopeless (anything but). The president has done more than enough to make himself vulnerable, and his best hope seems to be to convince the country that the Republicans had it out for him and were willing to sacrifice the country to take down his presidency (pretty much true). Will he be able to do it? Probably. Or maybe I just don't think this country is yet willing to risk another dick swinging Texas Republican. O, sure, we might say we want it now, but once the general election rolls around, it's hard to see how hardline positions about never raising taxes and social security being a Ponzi scheme are going to get one to 50% of the vote.
In this sense, Romney is still the Republicans' best choice (though I'm starting to think his nomination over Perry might risk a Tea Party-backed 3rd party candidacy from someone like Bachman), but it seems increasingly unlikely that he'll be the nominee when no Republican seems to actually want to vote for him. Establishment Republicans seem all too aware that Perry is going to be the candidate non-insiders rally around--and that's why he's different from late entries of bygone days like Fred Thompson and Wesley Clark--and they want another option. It's not that Perry doesn't have the best chance of winning out of the current field, it's that they're afraid the current field might top out at 46% of the electorate.
Looking at polls, a couple of things seem clear. No one likes Republicans and no one likes the economy. Weirdly, people still like Obama, at least personally (although they may be beginning to separate his performance from his personality), and it seems like the only candidate who could beat him would somehow have to make the case he or she can fix the economy and not be an ideologue. This, obviously, is where Perry fails, at least at the moment. Smart Republicans know that his gender is not going to make him immune from the Sarah Palin treatment and dumb ones think he can win with the Tea Party alone.
And who knows, maybe he can. Obama has to find a better reason to bring out his voters again than 'I'm not an idiot and the other guys might be.' But Perry might actually tip the scales too far. God knows there are plenty of liberals who are going to hear him talk and think of G.W. At the point, it becomes anyone but him, and then you might see a left as invigorated as the right.
This is why Ryan and Christie are such attractive candidates to Beltway Republicans. They have all Perry's positives (perceived economic credentials, Tea Party-approved, vaguely presidential) and none of his negatives (neither seems like a Multiplicity-esque 5th generation George W. Bush clone). Ryan is obviously the lesser of the two but even still, he'd give mainstream Republicans cover to avoid a Bachman or Perry candidacy. Tim Pawlenty badly miscalculated when he decided to veer hard right (or maybe he just didn't see Bachman coming from his own backyard) and Huntsman, God bless him, seems close to agreeing with everyone else that he should really be a Democrat (points to him, however, for being the only non-major contender to realize that courting the Tea Party is a fool's errand with Bachman [and now Perry] around). So it's only Perry that seems like a legit option, and a legit option he is.
In an open election, he might even justify some of the fear he's been producing, but, then again, in an open election, he'd definitely have to beat Chris Christie and a slew of other more mainstream challengers. Without those more electable options, he's running for the title of "least obviously retrograde" which, in this climate, might have a shot. After all, 30% of the people would probably rather die than vote for Obama which might mean a lot except that 40% will probably feel the same way about Perry once they get to know him.
Of course, Perry--like Bush before him--might find a way to moderate himself in time for the general election, but it’s important to note that Bush never had to swing nearly this hard to the right. More than that, of course, is that Perry doesn’t want to moderate himself (you’ve got to think his advisors hate the fact that Perry published a book full of radically hard right positions [flat tax!] back when he didn’t think he’d be a candidate and now has to carry those ideas into this election).
So maybe Obama does end up facing something like a Perry-Huntsman ticket (which, though I highly doubt it would happen, would be the smartest pick Perry could make. He’ll probably find some elder Republican with economic and foreign policy credentials). Is that the worst case scenario? Not really. Even a moderate VP pick isn’t going to soften Perry up enough for the general populace, and his economic ideas are a tough sell, no matter what he claims to have done in Texas. And this remains the most important point: even with this economy, George W. Bush wouldn’t be able to beat Obama in ’12. Why would a dumber, more radical imitation?