When he first entered the Republican presidential campaign, Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) became the immediate front-runner with former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA). The campaign was clearly an “anybody but Romney” affair, as the social conservatives in the GOP don’t find the more moderate Mr Romney acceptable, and Mr Perry was a long-term Governor of a large state, with the best job creation record in the nation, and was seen as a social conservative as well; his record as Governor would be an instant selling point against President Obama’s record in office.
Unfortunately for Governor Perry, he didn’t perform well in the various Republican debates. He wasn’t polished, he forgot basic points, and he was simply a poor debater. And that led to a “next man up” as the conservative alternative to Mr Romney, with Herman Cain at first, who said most of the right things, until his candidacy was destroyed by allegations of sexual harassment (including some proof, as the National Restaurant Association he once headed made payouts to settle such claims), to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA); Mr Gingrich is now having problems due to his recent answer concerning illegal immigration. (Governor Perry had a similar problem, concerning Texas granting in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants.¹) The others running for the Republican nomination never got a primary-challenger-to-Mitt status, and it seems unlikely that Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) or former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) will get that “next man up” promotion; they just haven’t generated much traction after Mrs Bachmann won the Iowa straw poll, months ago. Mr Santorum lost his last election, the 2006 Pennsylvania Senate race. And Mrs Bachmann is showing herself to be a little on the thin-skinned side for a presidential campaign; if she was so terribly offended by NBC’s music selection during her appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, she’ll never make it through a general election campaign. Former Governor Jon Huntsman (R-UT) is seen as just as much of a moderate as Mr Romney, so he’s not going to be the next conservative challenger, and while Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) and his strong libertarian leanings have found a niche in the GOP, he seems unlikely to be the next man up.
Which makes me wonder: will Governor Perry get a second chance?
I signed up early for Governor Perry’s campaign, and gave an early endorsement to him. My initial endorsement was based on his performance in office, and his record for actually having run something, something that Mr Gingrich and Mrs Bachmann and Mr Santorum can’t claim they have ever done. The voters in the next general election, noting how President Obama came into office without any executive experience and how poorly he has performed in office, are going to be a little more leery about a Republican nominee who lacks real governing experience. Mitt Romney, at least, has that.
But so does Rick Perry, more than Mr Romney, though Mr Romney does have a bit wider range of experience, including being President and CEO of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games Organizing Committee. If Mr Gingrich stumbles as the current next man up, it seems possible that Mr Perry will get another chance.
Possible, however, does not mean probable. It will take a lot of hard work to get that done. Fortunately for Mr Perry, I’m seeing a much better campaign from his organization than was the case early on. Where they were initially taking e-mail lists for news and campaign distributions, and doing nothing with them, now they are right on top of things, and getting their contact work done. Where his campaign website was kind of pathetic when it was started, and it took far too long to improve it, it has improved significantly.² The campaign has been right there, after every debate, and after every news event, with instant appraisals and stories and information e-mailed to supporters, and been there to try to frame the story to Governor Perry’s advantage rather than to let the talking heads of the professional media do it.
In an odd way, Governor Perry might even benefit from the Romney campaign. Governor Romney is making the “electability” argument these days, an argument which holds, among other things, that the voters should expect a candidate to agree with them on many things but not necessarily everything, if they expect that candidate to be able to win the election. Governor Perry’s initial strength was based on the perception that his record made him a very strong challenger to President Obama, so Mr Romney’s arguments play to Mr Perry’s strengths. Conservative voters may well be willing to overlook Mr Perry’s position on one part of the illegal immigration issue, a part which can be easily defended, given that he is closer to their positions on other issues than is Mr Romney.
But it depends on two things: will the Republican voters be willing to take a second look at a candidate who was up and then stumbled, and can Mr Perry, now with a bit of national campaign seasoning under his belt, be able to perform better on the campaign trail than he did right out of the starting gate? He has done reasonably well in the last few debates, with no stumbles or gaffes, but he has not been noteworthily spectacular, either. It seems to me that Governor Perry does have another opportunity to move ahead, but, this time around, he’ll have to come from behind.
¹ – To be eligible for in-state tuition, an illegal immigrant must have been graduated from high school and been in Texas for at least three years; to meet those criteria, they would have had to have been minors when they came into the country. Even after having dropped in the polls, Governor Perry is still defending that policy.
² – For about the first month, there wasn’t even a campaign telephone number listed. It took about that long for the website to have any “campaign store” link, on which you could buy t-shirts and coffee mugs and bumper stickers. The issues section was pretty skimpy at first as well.