Rick Perry’s electability

    Given the swift ascent of Rick Perry, one can only feel a measure of pity for the other Republican presidential contestants. Here they all were, laboring oh so hard for the fealty of conservative voters, plucking all the right chords as they preached to the choir (Obama is evil, abortion is evil, gay marriage is evil, tax hikes for anyone under any circumstances are evil) – yet, at the eleventh hour, along comes a George W. Bush knockoff who can potentially knock them out.It will be fascinating to see how Perry, a visceral kick-butt conservative, plays on the national stage. Many Perry-watchers are scathingly skeptical. Republican strategist Mike Murphy says he has “major concerns” that “a twangy conservative Texan” would be the best ’12 nominee. Ross Douthat, the conservative columnist, describes Perry as “the conservative id made flesh,” as way too distanced from the American mainstream; in Douthat’s view, giving the nod to Perry would be akin to the Democrats nominating “a combination of Al Franken and Nancy Pelosi.” Meanwhile, James Moore, a veteran Texas commentator and Emmy Award winner, describes his home-state governor as “a C and D student who hates to govern, loves to campaign, and barely has a sixth grader’s understanding of economics.” (Perry was a C and D student at Texas A & M.)But, at least with respect to winning over the Republican primary electorate, Perry has assets that his underwhelming rivals sorely lack. Money, for instance. As I mentioned here briefly yesterday, he alone has enough deep-pocketed donors (oilmen, bankers, pay-to-play Texas entrepeneurs, plus the usual Republican corporate interests) to sustain a long competition with well-monied Mitt Romney. But that’s just for starters.Most importantly, he potentially appeals to all three legs of the Republican stool. Back in the Reagan era, those three stool legs were: business establishment, Christian right, and Cold War hawks. Today, post-Cold War, the three legs are: business establishment, Christian right, and tea party. Perry has cred with all three legs – whereas Romney is still viewed with suspiction by legs two and three. And as for Michele Bachmann, she’s viewed very skeptically by leg number one; unlike her, the business establishment feared a credit default.But bonding with all Republican factions is only half the battle; winning in November is the real prize, and here is where Perry might well be problematical for a party that presumably cares about its nominee’s electability.When I earlier referred to Perry as a George W. Bush knockoff, I was referring only to their shared stylistics – the swagger, the cockiness, the puffed-out chest, the voice. (Especially the voice. Watch a Perry video with your eyes closed, and you’ll be transported back to 2000.) But they are markedly dissimilar on policy and ideology. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” in the 2000 campaign now seems like hippie liberalism when compared to where Perry is coming from.I wonder whether Perry would be able to win over the seniors in pivotal senior-heavy states such as Pennsylvania and Florida – and, indeed, whether he’d be able to connect with swing-voting independents anywhere – by contending on the stump that Social Security and Medicare should be scrapped entirely, and that the federal government, on principle, should be AWOL during an ecomnomic crisis.Because those are his publicly stated beliefs – the core of his belief system, as it were.During an interview last autumn with Newsweek’s Andrew Romano, Perry attacked Social Security (arguably, America’s most consistently popular program) as a “failure” that “we have been forced to accept for more than 70 years now.” He said that he wants to get rid of it entirely, and let each state come up with its own safety net program. Perry said he also wants to consign Medicare to the same fate – according to recent national polls, a landslide majority of Americans oppose the scrapping of Medicare – because he believes that each state should be free to devise their senior health programs.I look forward to hearing Perry explain that stance down in Florida – where, absent the safety net of Medicare, seniors (and their health) would be at the cost-slashing mercy of Rick Scott, who, six months into his gubernatorial tenure this spring, posted a 29 percent approval rating.As for what Perry would do to counter an economic crisis, his answer is simple: Nothing. He’s a pure laissez faire kind of guy. As he told Romano, “I think you allow the market to work its way through it…Let the processes find their way.”I look forward to that argument as well. I suspect that swing-voting independents would prefer a president who takes action – at least some kind of action – during such a crisis. The last time a president stood aside to “allow the market to work its way through” was circa 1930, when Herbert Hoover believed in the magic.But Perry believes – by all accounts, sincerely so – that his do-nothing ethos has been blessed by the highest authority. That would be God. Why exert leadership when God stands ready to sort things out? Nine days ago, at Perry’s well-publicized Christian prayer rally, the future candidate said that because America is “in jeopardy,” the ultimate fixer should come to the rescue:”I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to God and say, ‘God, you’re going to have to fix this.'”Hand it over to God…That kind of message may wow the Christian right on the road to the nomination, but I wonder whether his in-your-face faith talk would enhance his electability, especially among center-turf Americans who would surely prefer that their fixers be made of earthly flesh and blood.

    All of which prompts the question: Notwithstanding Barack Obama’s political woes, would swing voters be drawn to a guy who makes George W. Bush look like Rick Perry lite?——-Reading recommendation of the day: How Congressman Darrell Issa, the purported conservative Republican watchdog, has fattened his wallet while dining at the federal trough and leveraging federal law. Who will watch the watchdogs?——-My Sunday newspaper column dealt with the paralysis of the U.S. political duopoly, and the voters’ unprecedented disgust. ——-I fielded questions in a Live Chat today.——-I’m now on Twitter, @dickpolman1, for those who want to follow.

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