Why Rick Perry Can Win

I'm going to have a little fun with Kevin Drum whose list of reasons Texas Governor Rick Perry won't win largely reads to me like reasons why he can.

Everyone looks good before they get into the race. Drum writes that "He'll start to look distinctly more human" when the national media starts taking a look at him. True, but absent some really serious scandals we don't know about yet, I've seen nothingvyet to suggest Perry will be seriously damaged by the scrutiny.

He's too Texan. I don't think this is much of a liability. It's certainly possible that an unconscious association with Bush might hurt Perry among the general electorate, but his "Texanness" is part of his appeal to conservatives--not torture lover Michael Goldfarb gushing that “He’s a cowboy. You have to assume he’d shoot first and ask questions later — which would be nice after four years of a leading from behind, too little too late foreign policy.” Like I've said before, Republicans want like their nominees manly, wanting "a candidate who is some kind of genetic hybrid of Ronald Reagan and Chuck Norris in Way of the Dragon."

He's too mean. Executing an innocent man based on faulty evidence and then trying to cover it up is one of the worst possible things a governor can do. Yet killing innocent people is practically part of the job description for U.S. president, and Americans, fairly bullish on the death penalty, I'm sad to say probably think "better safe than sorry." It's not hard to see conservatives playing this up as a strength, portraying Perry as decisive and strong--and as Bill Clinton once said, Americans prefer "strong and wrong" to "weak and right."

He's too dumb. This is the worst of Drum's reasons. As a former president from Texas once said, "they misunderestimated me." Someone point out a single election in American history that hinged on a candidate's college transcript.  Even if the Obama campaign is smart enough not to harp on Perry's grades, in a recession where joblessness is concentrated among those without a college diploma, media focus on Perry's mediocre grades is likely to make him more, not less sympathetic to American voters. And the Nixonland style attacks from the Perry camp, painting their candidate as an average American under assault from the Harvard elitist, well, those write themselves.

He's too smarmy. This seems pretty subjective to me. Is he going to come off any less disingenuous than Obama when pointing out that the unemployment is relatively low in his state than Obama will trying to talk up "green shoots" in the American economy?

He's too overtly religious. This is another reason conservatives will be willing to turn out for Perry in numbers they might not for Mitt Romney. Liberals also have an extremely tough line to walk in painting conservatives as "too religious" without alienating people of faith, and conservatives like Perry have long ago learned to speak in code that is relatively opaque and harmless sounding to those not in the know.

Policywise, he's too radical, even for Republicans. This might hurt him--Perry basically thinks almost all social insurance programs are unconstitutional. He'll likely have to walk this back in the general, but if the economy is bad enough people will be willing to take his retractions at face value.

Despite conventional wisdom, about half of the GOP rank-and-file aren't tea party sympathizers. This is related to the above question, and it really just depends on how effective Perry is at moving to the center in the general should he win the nomination. And if the economy is bad enough, people will decide to believe him no matter what he's said in the past.


Perry's campaign is going to be heavily based on the "Texas miracle."
Sure, liberal wonks might be able to discredit Perry's record on the merits. In case you haven't noticed though, liberal economic theories have never been particularly popular even when they're right, and results speak louder than charts on blogs.

Republicans want to beat Obama. I agree with Drum that Romney is probably the strongest anti-Obama challenger. Yet in the past, Republicans have felt safer going for 50 plus one percent by shoring up their base than by nominating pragmatic candidates with crossover appeal. Guess which one Perry is?

Dana Houle has a plausible structural argument against a Perry nomination, positing that Perry has a numbers problem because of the way the GOP primaries are set up. I find Houle's explanation for why Perry might not win the nomination a lot more plausible than Drum's arguments for why Perry won't appeal nationally. As Drum notes, If the economy is bad enough it won't really matter what Perry has said in the past, or how much he reminds the electorate of the last guy to hold the office before Obama.

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