I’m back from my two-week hiatus, which I spent traveling around the east coast. Nearing the end I had to cut my vacation a day short, under threat of Irene, and I headed back to Syracuse on a last minute train ticket. But, I’m back now, and during the last two weeks one of the most significant developments was the entrance of Rick Perry into the republican primary field. Many people are calling him the frontrunner in the GOP primary, mostly due to his plurality in the poll numbers. But, I have serious doubt about Perry’s electability if he manages to secure the GOP nod.
Perry has replaced Mitt Romney as the number one republican in the field right now. He was being talked about as a serious candidate well before he announced, and now that he has seen a huge surge in support, he is having his named dropped as the potential nominee (and even president) in the media even more. There is a lot to Perry that makes him a good candidate. Everyone agrees that he is a good skilled politician: he is an effective fundraiser, speaker, and campaigner. He also has a strong base of support to draw from, the same base of support that Pawlenty and Bachman hoped to draw from. This is largely the Tea Party + Religious Right conservative cadre that makes up more than a majority of republicans nation-wide. Perry has already, and will continue to steal support from those who wish to take advantage of this group of people who are extremely effective grassroots campaigners.
Some people have even suggested that Perry has a good shot at becoming president. It is true that many people will appreciate the message of “smaller, simpler, and in control government” that Perry will likely champion. Right now, people do not like their government and what it is doing. Only 15% approve of congress, and less than 20% approve of the direction of the country. Clearly, a change is desired, and the stage has been set for an anti-incumbency uprising. To make matters worse for Obama, the most important issue for him in the coming election, the economy and jobs, will not be going his way. But that is why he wants Perry to be the nominee.
Obama knows that his policy performance die has been cast. In general, people are not impressed by what has been Obama’s first term, and that is not going to change. Despite a number of small to medium sized successes he can point to, every voter will be a pocket book voter. Unfortunately for him (and us all) we will not see a dramatic economic turnaround in the next year and unemployment numbers will stay depressingly high. Obama’s re-election campaign architects know that their campaign’s success will come not from touting their unimpressive successes, or making another series of lofty promises about a second term, but by making the GOP nominee look radical and dangerous. Perry is perfect for this.
Perry, as a presidential candidate, is tremendously controversial and hardline in his statements. He is completely willing to say, on a national stage, what others know will scare away independents. Perry unapologetically marries his faith to his politics. He also unflinchingly associates himself with a wing of the GOP that is skeptical of science in general, stating his doubts about climate change and even evolution. His intellectual chops are reminiscent of the last Texas governor turned President. At the end of the day, his worldview does not jive with those who are outside of his, admittedly large and influential, immediate constituency. These characteristics make him a great primary candidate, as the Tea Party/ Religious Right people tend to fervently hold many of the same positions and consider his intellectual elitism a plus. However, these characteristics also make him an easy to defeat republican nominee.
Perry will be eviscerated in the national news media. His worldview and public statements will not stand the light of day in the press. While his large base will write this off as liberal bias mainstream media, it will have a real impact on his viability in the general election. A tremendous body of evidence will quickly develop, and has already begun to, that will paint a picture of Perry as George W. Bush part II (except even more hard right). This natural occurrence will be coupled with the very effective and competent campaigning efforts of Obama and will equal a second term for the president.
Last time around Obama successfully appealed to liberals and courted moderates, and he became president. He can do it again, and as an incumbent has an innumerable of huge advantages. Perry cannot appeal to moderates, and I do not see a path that leads him to the presidency.