Rick Perry participate at last night's presidential debate at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. (AP Photo/Andrew Harrer, Pool)
For evidence of Texas governor Rick Perry's rapid collapse, look no further than recent surveys of Republican presidential voters. According to a Gallup poll released yesterday, only 15 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents support Perry, down from 31 percent in September, and 29 percent in August. Likewise, Public Policy Polling found Perry's support plummeting among Republicans in Iowa and North Carolina, states with large evangelical populations that should be friendly to the governor.
When Charles Webster was a member of the Maine House during the 1980s and 1990s, he and his Republican colleagues routinely proposed bills that would create restrictive voting laws -- or, as Webster sees it, legislation to tamp down on the rampant threat of voter fraud. "Every year we tried to solve this problem," he says, "and it was always a partisan vote," with Democrats supporting laws intended to increase turnout. As a result, Webster says, "We have one of the most loosey-goosey, lax election laws in the country."
In 2008, Barack Obama's campaign ran circles around John McCain's with its deft use of social media, empowering supporters to become active participants. Four years before, Howard Dean shocked everyone into understanding that the Internet could be more than a novelty and could actually generate money and votes. Looking back even further, Bill Clinton and the Democratic National Committee bought a wave of television advertising starting in 1995, beginning the campaign before he even had an opponent.
As a fan of Lawrence Lessig's pioneering work on copyright and digital culture, I was saddened when, a few years back, he shifted his focus to congressional corruption and campaign finance. Efforts to take the money out of politicsas opposed to playing the underdog's hand as well as possiblehad long struck me as a sucker's game. Either way, you have to beat the moneyed interests. My skepticism deepened at a dinner where Lessig presented his ideas and, in response to hostile questions, seemed unfamiliar with an extensive academic literature casting doubt on the commonsense theory that campaign contributions buy policy results.
(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) Voters line up at a polling station to vote in Florida's 2008 presidential primary in Coral Gables.
If there's one thing politically minded New Hampshirites are proud of, it's their "first in the nation" status when it comes to presidential primaries. "It's a state that is small enough yet diverse enough that it can have a very useful conversation with presidential candidates," says Bill O'Brien, speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives. "I think we do a real service for the country by having this setting to vet the candidates."
When Republicans won sweeping victories at the federal and state levels in 2010, they no doubt realized their position was a fragile one. The economy goes up and down, policies can be popular or unpopular, and the public's will is fickle. To stay in power, there's no substitute for rigging the game, which they set out to do by passing laws through state legislatures that make it more difficult for people who are likely to vote for Democrats to cast votes at all.
The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation," Franklin Roosevelt declared as he campaigned for the presidency in the spring of 1932. "It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something."
On August 11, at a Republican debate in Iowa held two days before she won the straw poll in Ames, Michele Bachmann deflected a question that brought boos from the audience. The moderator, Byron York of the Washington Examiner, had asked the Minnesota congresswoman whether she would be submissive to her husband in the White House.
(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, Pool) Republican presidential candidate Texas Governor Rick Perry, left, points out a member of the audience to Utah Governor Jon Huntsman during a Fox News/Google debate yesterday.
For anyone who's lived -- or, rather, done time -- in Rick Perry's Texas, nothing could be more astonishing than what transpired in Orlando on Thursday night: The governor who has turned his state into an Ayn Rand fantasia with a Wild West theme looked and sounded ... humane. And as a result, thanks to the implacable absurdity of his opposition, he took another improbable step toward resembling an electable candidate for president.
As much as we bemoan our polarized politics, dislike for one's political opponents is one of the most powerful engines that drives political participation. It isn't necessarily wrong to be mad or think that the other side is nuts -- all of us do, at some point or another. But that belief can lead partisans to some places that don't do them any favors when it comes to making their case to the public.
(AP Photo/Brett Flashnick) Republican presidential candidate and Texas Governor Rick Perry during a South Carolina GOP lunch in Columbia, August 19, 2011
When I arrived at the Knightsville United Methodist Church, meeting place for the Low Country 9/12 project (and that night, a Cub Scout troop), Linda Ensor, the 2nd vice president, took care to explain the nonpartisan nature of her organization. "We don't tell them how to think, and we don't tell them to vote," she said as she described the mission of the Glenn Beck-inspired group. "We let them think how they think and vote how they vote."
(AP Photo/ Mary Ann Chastain) Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., speaks during the American Principles Project Palmetto Freedom Forum Monday, Sept. 5, 2011, in Columbia, S.C.
Despite the influential host, Senator Jim DeMint, and the high-profile attendees -- including every Republican presidential candidate save Texas Governor Rick Perry and former ambassador Jon Huntsman -- Monday's Palmetto Freedom Forum in South Carolina was a modest affair. The guests at the invitation-only event were the usual array of suited white men -- with a sprinkling of women and minorities -- and were just numerous enough to fill the venue, an ordinary-looking convention center in the middle of Columbia, the state capital.
(Flickr/Gage Skidmore Grover Norquist, president of a taxpayer advocacy group, Americans for Tax Reform
Presidential debates often configure their rules in subtle ways to include certain candidates rather than others, though it's usually not spelled out explicitly. But when Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform delayed a Nevada debate they were to host in July, they left no doubt that the move was made to accommodate their favored candidate. "We're waiting for Perry," Norquist toldThe Washington Post at the time. It's not the only instance where Norquist has operated to bolster Rick Perry's nascent presidential campaign.
When Rick Perry opened his presidential campaign with a dazzling display of what GOP consultant Alex Castellanos called "mad cowboy disease" -- threatening Ben Bernanke with ugly treatment if he ever ventured into Texas, questioning President Obama's patriotism, denying the global-warming "hoax" -- one of the Texas governor's greatest vulnerabilities as a candidate became immediately obvious: He enjoys nothing more than raising eyebrows (and hackles) with incendiary talk.
If Texas Governor Rick Perry didn't get you intrigued when he announced his candidacy for president on Saturday -- well, you'd best brace yourself for a long primary season. You won't be able to ignore him for long. His speech at the RedState Gathering in Charleston was vintage Perry, alternating between hardline, take-no-prisoners rhetoric and the occasional aw-shucks grin. The guy's got charm and an uncanny ability to get a friendly crowd fired up. Saturday's speech got the Red Staters so wild that when Perry said the key phrase -- "I declare to you today as a candidate for president" -- he actually had to motion them to quiet down.