by Brendan Monaghan
It’s hard to believe, but by this time next year, the Republican presidential nominee will most likely be decided. Closer to home, the Iowa Straw Poll is less than a month away, and the nomination’s regular season is well into its stretch run. About a dozen have thrown their hat in to the ring officially for the Republican nomination and a few of those harbor legitimate hopes of delivering the keynote speech on the last night of the Convention. And yet, something seems to be missing. The grassroots outside the Party and rank-and-file are dreading November 6, 2012; doing their best to avoid bridges, high windows, and sharp things. They fear this may be the weakest Republican presidential field since . . . well, 2008.
The field features several former governors, senators and members of congress, a businessman and an anti-rent-being-too-damn-high crusader. Fiscal conservatives, culture warriors, Tea Party activists, and small-L libertarians are all vying for space in an increasingly crowded field. And yet, something seems to be missing.
As in 2008, a consensus conservative- credible, likable, and electable- has yet to step forward. One who doesn’t believe he is owed the nomination by virtue of his birthright (or his standing in the last nomination race). One who doesn’t want to legalize heroin and prostitution or believe that homosexuality is a disease to be cured. One who can speak credibly on economic issues- central to the coming campaign- and with the good sense to emphasize jobs over the deficit. And someone who possesses the most important ability for any nominee in any race: “duh, winning!”
Meet Rick Perry, multi-term Governor of Texas, and potential game-changer if/when he enters the race officially next month. In an arena where the economy is first, second, and third on voters’ minds, Perry has the distinct advantage over everyone else in the field- and potentially the current President. Texas boasts an unemployment rate outperforming the national average and is the national leader in job creation. Indeed, the state has accounted for a substantial portion of the nation’s new jobs since the (official) end of the recession two years ago- between a third to one half, depending on who you ask. This is thanks in large part to the state’s business-friendly climate and lack of personal income taxes which have made the state a shining example of practical conservative economics.
Another aspect of Perry’s attractiveness as a candidate is his appeal across the broad spectrum of Republican primary voters. He carries influence within the en vogue Tea Party movement- yet doesn’t need to feel beholden to them. He doesn’t wear the movement badge on his sleeve (like a certain Minnesota Congresswoman), but adherents can tell he has Tea Party instincts. With that in mind, a potential against-the-current campaign would have insurgent undertones, but not enough to scare the daylights out of the Republican establishment or big money men. He, more than anyone else, has the potential to unite a fractured anti-Romney bloc and turn the nomination battle in to a two-man race.
Most importantly, his baggage is not life-threatening, as it is for other candidates. Democrats will attack Perry primarily on social issues (and so far, they have), the bread and butter of any Democrat campaign since at least the 1980’s. However, for better or for worse, his views on cultural matters are not out of step with what has been the mainstream of the Republican Party as a whole. Attacks from those on the right regarding immigration issues will not bite as deep as they did with the hapless Senator from Arizona. What’s more, criticism of his use of the death penalty comes primarily from those who would never vote for any Republican anyway.
Perhaps most damaging is the fiscal health of the state under Perry’s rule, currently facing a $27 billion deficit. This is a problem he will have to address (or fix), to be sure, but presidential elections are rarely fought on the governing record of the other guy. Can you recall, off-hand, the budget situations of Bush’s Texas, Clinton’s Arkansas, or Reagan’s California? Neither can I.
Republicans, rightly, will make the coming election a referendum on the last several years under President Obama.
Brendan is a graduate student at Portland State University, where he hosts the KPSU “Right Jab” radio program. Brendan is studying political science, and graduated from The Ohio State University in 2007, with a degree in political science.