Perry Agonistes

Back here on August 14, on the eve of Gov. Rick Perry’s entrance into the race, I put up a post on “Why It’s Going to Be Romney,” and promptly caught hell from a lot of Power Line readers.  Many of their criticisms had merit, and I was hoping for Perry to prove me wrong.  Indeed he got off to a fairly strong start in the first 72 hours.  But alas it is looking more and more like I was right.  (I’ll come to Herman Cain in due course.)

The heart of the analysis was this:

Most Republican nominees are people who have run seriously once before, gone through the ordeal, and—most importantly—made their mistakes and learned from them.   Think Nixon in 1960 and 1968, for example.  Reagan had run in 1976, of course, where he made several strategic and tactical mistakes that deprived him of winning.  Bob Dole melted down in 1988, lashing out at George H.W. Bush after his loss in New Hampshire.  George W. Bush is a partial exception here, but he’d been intimately involved in his father’s campaigns, and knew the drill cold.  The point is, the Republican Party likes their nominees vetted by going through the ordeal once.  Democrats, not so much.

The point is, no matter how many times you’ve run for senator or governor, running for president is a whole different universe.  Perry is about to get the most thorough proctological exam of his life, and the Texas story, an asset in many ways, will get distorted by the media and Perry’s Republicans rivals.  (I’m already getting e-mails with astounding and salacious allegations about Perry.)   The supreme test will be how he handles the madness, especially the unexpected and unfounded charges that may gain traction.  The media and eastern elites hate Texas, and will go out of their way to distort the Texas story and portray Perry as a freak.  I’d look for early attacks from unusual quarters. . .

Meanwhile, Romney has gone through this before, and so far is running a steady, relatively mistake-free campaign.  In this respect he reminds me of Nixon in 1968; there wasn’t much real grassroots enthusiasm for him (but he was thought better than a fellow named “Romney” in that race, as it happened), but he was acceptable to the party.  I’m not optimistic Romney’s steady approach will suffice to beat Obama.

The point is, running for president is the political equivalent of jumping from Double-AA baseball to the major leagues—in the middle of the World Series.  Perry seems to have suffered most from his debate performances, and although he is right on the merits that we’re not electing a debater-in-chief, the GOP debates in this cycle are more important than they’ve ever been because of the precariousness of our situation.  You have to be good at it now, or you won’t do.

The comments by Rick Perry’s wife on Thursday about how the campaign has been “brutalized” by its rivals and the media offers more evidence that even after 10 years in the Texas governorship, they were simply not prepared to face the hard sliders thrown at you in a presidential race.  Peggy Noonan’s Saturday Wall Street Journal column gets it right I think: “Rick Perry looks like someone who’s trying to find a graceful way of this thing.  It’s not going to work, and he must know it.”

I’ll be back with observations on Herman Cain later tonight or tomorrow.

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