My analysis a couple days ago on why Romney looks to be the prohibitive favorite to win the GOP nomination excited a lot of critical commentary–much of it persuasive–arguing that I underestimate Perry’s skill and potential. To be sure, Perry’s first 72 hours looked impressive, and there are early signs that he and his team have put a lot of thought into their rollout and campaign strategy. One part of my analysis, on reflection, is certainly wrong: Perry saw up close how George W. Bush was attacked in 2000, and has surely absorbed valuable lessons from that experience. (In fact, Perry played a behind the scenes role in trying to rebut some of the more egregious misrepresentations of Bush’s Texas record; I may tell a story that involved me on the periphery later on some time.)
A very shrewd and experienced old friend and long time Power Line reader who must remain anonymous (sensitive private sector job and all that) writes in with a persuasive case for Perry:
I understand the points you are making, but I disagree that Romney has things sewn up, as follows:
1) Romney is shaping up as the weakest front-runner since Bob Dole in 1996. His fundraising (an important mark of enthusiasm) is better than other Republicans, but is behind where it ought to be at this stage in the cycle. He can’t seem to get above 25 percent in GOP preference polls. I have yet to meet a single conservative who seems enthusiastic about him. The overwhelming attitude seems to be, “Well, I suppose he’d be better than Obama.” I could be wrong, but I don’t think anyone has ever gotten elected president who didn’t generate at least a little excitement. (Even Nixon managed that.)
2) Romney’s record remains a major problem. He can’t run on RomneyCare and then there are miscellaneous tax increases and such that further tarnish it. (And let’s not even talk about his, “I know – I’ll get to Teddy Kennedy’s left” Senate campaign.) His record at Bain is open to attack. As someone said back in 2008, “He looks like the CEO of the company that just laid you off.”
3) Speaking of looks, Romney just plain comes across as plastic and programmed. In an “authenticity” contest, Perry wins hands down.
I can tell you there is a good deal of enthusiasm for Perry down here. Just this past weekend, I found myself at dinner in Austin with friends of friends who are members of his finance committee and they tell me that Perry has commitments for over $10 million already pledged and plenty more is coming. The fly in the ointment is the attitude of what might be called, for lack of a better term, the “Bush mafia.” They are still licking their wounds from Kay Bailey Hutchison’s crash-and-burn and it is unclear whether they will get on board. In the end, I think they probably will, seeing the defeat of Obama as more important than intra-mural rivalries.
True, Perry hasn’t been tested outside of Texas. But he has beaten some pretty formidable people. His first statewide race (for state Ag Commissioner) in 1990 was against Jim Hightower. Remember Jim Hightower? He was the guy who was going to get Bubba in touch with his inner liberal. Perry beat him in an upset and Hightower has never been heard from since.
In last year’s primary, KBH was supposed to clean up in the cities and Perry in the cow counties. Instead, Perry thrashed her in all the major cities, winning a majority of the vote, even with a “tea party” candidate, Debra Messina (whom Glenn Beck unmasked as a 9/11 Truther), taking 18 percent of the vote. (See Michael Barone’s take here.) In the general, former Houston Mayor Bill White was about the best candidate the Democrats could have fielded. Perry ended up beating him with 55 percent of the vote and sweeping record numbers of Republicans into the state house.
I will add as a semi-rebuttal that I agree completely that Romney resembles Dole in his weakness as a front-runner, but recall that one reason Dole burst out and locked up the nomination in 1996 was party panic over Pat Buchanan’s first place showing in the New Hampshire primary. The same kind of panic might occur if Michele Bachmann wins in Iowa and New Hampshire and Perry doesn’t look strong enough, for whatever reason, to overcome her. Then you might see a rush to get behind Romney. And then get ready, as many commenters noted on my previous post, for a re-run of 1996 in the general election. (Sigh.)
I am struck, by the way, that no one has written in to say, “What about Newt?” Increasingly it appears that he has gone way past his “sell-by” date on the label. In retrospect, he should have run in 1996 against Clinton. This, by the way, should be a lesson for Paul Ryan.