The Texas Governor Won’t Be the GOP Nominee
The day he announced his candidacy, Rick Perry was the darling of the Republican Party. The Texas governor quickly galloped to the top of national polls, seemingly emerging as the ideal conservative challenger to President Obama. After months of lamenting the GOP field as insufficiently conservative or lacking in passion, many Republicans saw in Perry their ideal candidate.
But then, as Harvard Kennedy School professor Matthew Baum puts it, “he started talking.” To be sure, as Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder and CEO of Tea Party Patriots, points out, “Everyone seems to be very optimistic about anyone new who enters the race at first, giving them the benefit of the doubt.” Yet this pattern has already occurred with aspirants and characters alike, ranging from Sarah Palin to Donald Trump. Since the bounce afforded by novelty receded, Perry’s odds of victory have fallen steeply. Yet the governor’s problems are more fundamental. Perry will ultimately fail to win the Republican nomination because he inadequately appeals to social and business conservatives alike.
Perry’s meteoric rise and fall base on similar causes. Martin believes that “this time around…voters are looking for what the candidate’s track-record really is and not just what they say they’re going to do.” As Martin claims, Americans are taking a hard look at “candidates’ background and qualifications.” Unfortunately for Governor Perry, his conservative bona fides stand far from what they seemed just two months ago. Two issues in particular have allowed fringe opponents to portray Perry as unfaithful to the conservative principles: immigration and vaccines.
Attacks on his immigration record, especially his support for in-state college tuition for the children of illegal immigrants, have seriously eroded the GOP’s faith in Perry’s values. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s attacks found their mark during a GOP debate, “Four years of college, [that’s an] almost $100,000 discount if you are an illegal alien and go to the University of Texas… that doesn’t make sense to me.” Though some Republicans have criticized Romney for being too liberal, exchanges like this one leave GOP primary voters wondering who the real conservative is.
Conservatives such as Representatives Michelle Bachmann and Ron Paul also criticize Perry’s stance on a controversial human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine mandate for elementary school girls that he signed as governor. Although HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer, Bachmann and Paul see such a requirement as a serious infringement of parents’ rights. Bachmann even insinuated that Perry received financial inducements from Merck, the vaccine’s manufacturer. Harsh attacks by Tea Party heavyweights cast doubts on Perry’s viability as a candidate. Further, Perry’s willingness to engage with candidates well outside the political mainstream has prevented him from effectively challenging Romney, his chief rival for the nomination.
The Establishment Strikes Back
In an election centered on jobs and the economy, Perry’s track record on job creation is his most valuable asset. Unemployment continues to weigh down President Obama, and many Americans have lost their patience with the present administration. Nonetheless, Perry’s gubernatorial history has proved less fruitful than one might have presumed. Rival candidates and independent news analysts have torn apart Texas’s statistics. In Perry’s debate debut, for example, Romney attacked, “George Bush and his predecessor created jobs at faster rate than you did, Governor.” The skepticisms wears broader than just his rivals. Martin confirms that people are looking into whether, “it’s really [Perry]” responsible for Texas’ exemplary job growth.
The emphasis on governing records makes Perry vulnerable to Mitt Romney’s claims that forces unrelated to Governor Perry are responsible for Texas relative economic success. Indeed, critics assert that the groundwork for the “Texas Miracle”–low taxation and minimal business regulation—existed well before Perry’s ascent. While Perry’s relationship with his state’s economy remains tenuous, his viability against Obama will prove doubtful.
Perry’s central problem has become clear: instead of the candidate who can unite a socially conservative base and business-oriented mainstream, Perry has become distasteful to both. Already, many voters view him as an unelectable Texan caricature, reminiscent of George W. Bush in all the wrong ways. As his gaffes accumulate and his inflammatory statements such as describing Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme” continue to dominate the headlines, voters will grow wearier of the Texas Governor.
A Dogfight for the Nomination
Nonetheless, Republican media consultant Steve Grand cautions against writing Perry off too soon. While Perry may have suffered major setbacks, a candidate’s debate gaffes rarely finish a campaign. Grand says Perry is a “very good retail campaigner”, well suited to personally meeting with voters in early states like Iowa. Of course, he must showcase his leadership capacities to the electorate and shed the image of the somewhat befuddled debater, an outcome that has so far proved beyond reach. Grand also points to the employment of Dave Carney, one of Perry’s top consultants, as a sign that the governor’s campaign still has promise. Despite his late entry, Perry enjoys a viable campaign team capable of establishing a nation-wide campaign on short notice. His $17 million third quarter fundraising haul also signals that Republican bundlers and donors maintain some faith in Perry’s ability to secure the nomination.
Yet political tides are fast turning against Perry. Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain has recently assumed the mantle of the conservative firebrand and alternative to Romney. Cain’s long-term prospects and political seriousness are certainly questionable, particularly given recent harassment allegations, but Cain’s rise reflects the full extent to which Perry has squandered his own base of support. Cain’s “9-9-9” tax plan and charismatic speeches express the simple conservative message that Perry should have conveyed earlier.
Yet the biggest beneficiary of Perry’s fall may be Mitt Romney. Baum believes that unless Perry can recover, voters will end up flocking to Romney “by default” because he is a known quantity who can beat President Obama. Jenny Beth Martin likewise suggests the GOP base and Tea Party might be able to stomach Romney’s 10th Amendment argument about the state-based nature of Romneycare. And given his campaign’s record, it is difficult to foresee Perry finding the necessary political discipline to lure fiscal conservatives away from Romney, or igniting sufficient enthusiasm amongst social conservatives. It is early in the race, and Governor Perry will certainly not concede anytime soon. Yet the governor’s few conservatively unorthodox policy positions, dubious job creation record, and gaffe-prone rhetoric will almost certainly doom his chances.
Photo Credit: Flickr (Gage Skidmore)