The Liberal Ironist put-off a response to the Ames, Iowa Republican presidential primary debate for several days–which was just as well, because a new bit of news has completely and justifiably overshadowed the debate, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s (R-MN) and Congressman Ron Paul’s (R-TX) surprising 1st- and 2nd-place takes in the (irrelevant) Iowa Straw Poll Saturday, and even former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s philosophical announcement on Sunday that he was closing down his presidential campaign. On Saturday–while the Iowa Straw Poll was in session–Texas Governor Rick Perry announced he was running for President.
Everyone knows this now. I waited long-enough before writing on this–less than a week–for a Rasmussen poll to come out putting Perry well in the lead among likely Republican primary voters for the Presidential nomination. True, almost 6 months remain until the Iowa Caucuses, at which point we will have a more-valid picture of which Republican hopefuls have gathered the most Party support. Still, for Governor Perry to vault right into the lead essentially upon announcement of his candidacy for President suggests that the Republican Party has been waiting for a deliverer–and has found one.
The point of this entry is to offer an assessment of Governor Perry’s cosmetic assets. (No, this has nothing to do with his hair.) In this entry, the Liberal Ironist means to set aside the record and proposed policies–which if anything are more-Conservative than you would reasonably respect from a Republican Presidential candidate–and simply focus on the qualities that could allow the man to pull-through a primary and get elected, and little else. The 1st sign of Perry’s political acuity to emerge from his announcement of candidacy was his sense of timing. Perry of course made the customary advance notice of a formal announcement last Friday; the official announcement of his candidacy itself came at the conference for the conservative blog RedState.com in South Carolina–on Saturday, August 13th. This was the day of the Iowa Straw Poll, of Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s surprising (but not shocking) 1st-place win and Congressman Ron Paul’s surprising (but not shocking) 2nd-place win.
We are to believe that Governor Perry announced his candidacy for the Presidency on the other Conservative upstarts’ big day as a coincidence?
Governor Romney has met his match–not just in the immediate polling but in political acuity. Though his string of startling early campaign statements may yet : As much as Romney wants to run on his business experience, Perry wants to run on his record as Governor. For philosophical reasons, Democrats will find this record horrendous, Conservatives (though not necessarily all stripes of Republican) will find it almost ideal-type, and independents (whom in practice are usually unaffiliated because they are little-informed) will probably be looking for any sign, including loose association, of an executive who has found a way out of our prolonged economic stagnation.
37% of all job growth nationwide since June 2009 (at around which time or shortly thereafter President Obama had forecasted the US unemployment rate would peak at around 8% and begin to fall again) has occurred in the Republic of Texas, home to 10% of the US population. Many of these jobs are minimum-wage or even sub minimum-wage, many of them are in State and local government, and many of them are tied to Texas’ large oil and natural gas industries; these 3 factors make the “Texas Miracle” largely-irrelevant to a national economic policy. But Perry was the Governor of record in Texas at the time, a fact he isn’t likely to forget. Throw in the fact that he balanced Texas’ budget, and Governor Perry has a plausible myth in his favor; right now President Obama just has a probably-true but ungainly counterfactual: We didn’t realize the severity of the Great Recession in January 2009, and without the stimulus the downturn would have been much worse. The President deserves to be able to use this defense, but with a 9% unemployment rate and an 18.2% underemployment rate nationwide, the Liberal Ironist will be able to understand when no one besides the President’s principled supporters really care.
Is Governor Perry’s job-promotion narrative vague on the details? Sure. Will that mean he can’t use it effectively? The Liberal Ironist thinks he can and will. Governor Perry’s “Texas Miracle” isn’t a lie, it’s a myth. He slashed education spending he previously supported in his post-Financial Crash budgets to bring them into balance without raising taxes; he’ll say that those were the “tough decisions” he’s been talking about, claiming that he’s put his money where his mouth is–and likely criticize President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act for creating unfunded mandates for academic progress anyway.
Oh, yeah–Have I mentioned Rick Perry’s Federalism? Last year Governor Perry wrote a book called Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington. It reads light on policy prescriptions and heavy on a list of grievances against Washington. What makes it distinct–not unprecedented to those familiar with Barry Goldwater or Newt Gingrich, but still an under-vocalized tack considering the recent rightward shift of the Republican Party–is its advocacy of power decentralization, especially to the 50 States.
For a Republican to call for less Federal power is as unremarkable as it gets, but for him to make the central basis of his appeal the idea that Americans have the space to live separately–essentially, to advance the 10th Amendment’s reservation of unenumerated powers “to the States respectively, or to the people” as the the health of the Constitution–is different. While not unprecedented, Federalism (in the contemporary, not the original, idiom) affords Governor Perry the opportunity to have his Tea Party cake and eat it, too, proposing a Federal Government with less power over consumer and investor decisions and our personal lives. Make no mistake: Rick Perry could come out as a Libertarian–which he is not–and the Liberal Ironist would none the less prefer for Barack Obama to remain President. My point is that Governor Perry could cobble together a large constituency if he found a way to split the difference on some of the debates that have proved interminable in national politics; he simply has to be smart-enough to stick to that message and unabashedly expound on its appeal.
There is reason to believe that he isn’t smart-enough to stick to that comparatively non-threatening position. Apparently driven to out-maneuver his various freakish Republican primary opponents on the right, from staple curmudgeons like the Libertarian Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) to the reliable naysayer (and likewise legislative non-presence) Michele Bachmann (R-MN) to long-shots whom have simply succumbed to varying degrees of bigotry in their campaign statements (former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, businessman Herman Cain), Governor Perry has called for a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage–and this not long after conceding that the elected representatives of the people of New York had the right to institute gay marriages there. A Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage would face daunting hurdles to passage–Republicans have no chance of taking 2/3 of both chambers of Congress for the foreseeable future, and 38 State legislatures would have to ratify any such Amendment–though such an Amendment could alternately be recommended by 34 State legislatures and subsequently ratified by 38. That’s actually close to the number of States that have passed either constitutional or statutory bans on gay marriage. But only 25 State legislatures (including officially-nonpartisan Nebraska) have Republican majorities; adding split legislatures and Democratic-majority legislatures dominated by Conservative Democrats, and I suspect only around 31 States would support such an Amendment. Such assurances aren’t offered in Perry’s defense, mind you; they are testaments to his partisanship.
What could wreck a Perry candidacy in the general election quick is his recent call for a Constitutional Amendment banning abortion. Since the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision back in 1973, about 3 in 5 Americans have consistently expressed support for the vast majority of circumstances under which abortions are performed. (The near-total stability of opinion on this issue, in spite of the overlaying partisan change and the unresolvable nature of the moral premises behind the Pro-Choice and “Pro-Life” causes, is rather fascinating.) Americans by a majority tend to accept all kinds of qualifications on abortion rights, supporting parental notification before a minor can get an abortion (which seems strangely-cruel) and a ban on so-called “partial-birth” abortion, which really refers to an abortion in the latter 6 months of a pregnancy, relatively rare, and generally performed in the context of an emergency (and thus also seems strangely-cruel). But most Americans definitely do not support a Constitutional Amendment that would make abortion illegal except in the event of rape, incest or an immediate threat to a woman’s life. While support for an anti-gay marriage Amendment might just raise skepticism towards a Perry candidacy rather than further arouse base enthusiasm, proposal of a so-called “human life” Amendment could actually put Perry in Goldwater territory in the 2012 Election.
Barring that, current political circumstances almost seem prepared for Governor Perry, even if he is a strange animal for Federal politics. There is undeniably growing public frustration with President Obama. It may be the President has been condemned for not doing the impossible in putting the US (and in a sense, the global) economy back in working order, but the plain truth is that he has failed to meet the benchmarks for economic progress he himself set in early 2009. Congressional Republicans have neither ideological nor political cause to work with him on another stimulus, and just because the Federal debt limit is now effectively raised through 2012 doesn’t mean that future drives to raise the debt limit won’t be used as leverage in the same manner by whichever party is in the opposition. Something–we don’t know what–must resolve itself in the current impasse in national politics.
The times call out for a deliverer. The Liberal Ironist is convinced that Governor Perry is exactly the wrong man for the job, with ideological attacks against a managed recovery and even parts of our social safety net. But that doesn’t mean he won’t get lucky–initially in choosing to run for President in 2012, next perhaps watching the economy gradually unstick itself by default and then in claiming–unfalsifiably–that the people made the right choice and the market has worked again.
The current Governor of Texas carries a gun, gets highways built over public controversy, and always finds the attack ad that sticks. His biggest challenge throughout the 2012 Presidential Election cycle will be managing his own swagger.