[credit provider=”Flickr Jim Greenhill” url=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimgreenhill/4922356092/”]
The Republican “establishment,” such as it is, is quickly coming to the realisation that the 2012 GOP presidential nomination is Texas Governor Rick Perry’s to lose.He leads in Iowa and he hasn’t even really campaigned there yet. He’s running second in New Hampshire, which is all he needs to do. And he’s running comfortably ahead in South Carolina (again, without much campaigning), which is the gateway to the South.
The South is the base of the modern Republican Party. Perry has become, in less than a month, the Southern states’ de facto favourite son.
Two obstacles stand between Perry and the GOP nomination: Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Bachmann’s campaign peaked at (or just before) the Iowa Straw Poll. Republican primary voters and caucus attenders love her energy and zest, but they worry she will be unable to defeat President Obama in the general election. “Electability” will be her undoing. Perry stands to pick up her supporters as her campaign deflates.
That leaves Romney, a candidate the base of the Republican Party would rather not nominate if they have a viable alternative. Romney’s argument is straightforward: “I’m a turn-around guy and I can win.” He’s turned around a number of struggling and failing businesses. He rescued the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City from disaster. He served ably as governor of Massachusetts.
Romney’s problem is four-fold: he’s politically “fungible” (to put it politely), he’s from the wrong region of the country (New England), he’s of the wrong religion (Mormonism) and he’s too closely identified with Wall Street (Bain Capital). The Republican base would prefer to nominate a strong conservative, evangelical Christian from the Sunbelt who, at the least, shares their disdain for Wall Street’s reckless stewardship of the nation’s financial system.
Once labour Day has passed, there will be five debates, in quick succession, on the GOP presidential candidates’ calendars. These will be important tests for Perry. If at the end of two or three, it’s clear that he’s every bit the equal of Mitt Romney on matters of policy and politics, then the Perry juggernaut becomes all but unstoppable. Romney’s “I’m the only electable one” argument will vanish and the party’s base will nominate one of their own. If Perry stumbles badly in the debates, Romney’s campaign gets a second wind.
Knowing that the only things standing between Perry and the GOP nomination are a couple of “good enough” debate performances, the GOP “establishment” faces a choice: they can cross their fingers and hope for the best or mount a sustained negative campaign to destroy Perry with the party’s base. It is likely that, after labour Day, a sustained negative campaign against Perry will be launched.
The sewage flood-gates have already opened, to some degree. For the past few months, Washington bureau chiefs of major news organisations have been inundated with rumours of Perry’s alleged personal indiscretions and peccadilloes. And virtually every major news organisation has some kind of “investigative team” looking into allegations of “pay to play” and other forms of corruption. If all that that amounts to are some negative articles in The Washington Post and The New York Times, Perry won’t be harmed. It will take something serious, something big and proven to bring him down.
In the meantime, Perry has the luxury of thinking nationally. As President Obama’s political standing continues to erode, the “electability” hurdle gets lower. The base is beginning to think that anyone can beat Obama. And there is already talk that former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie are Perry’s top two choices for vice president. This has GOP activists nearly giddy with glee. A Perry-Christie ticket would be more than electable; it would be formidable. It would also bring the GOP “establishment” back inside his tent, which is where Perry wants them and needs them to be.
The real test, then, will be the five upcoming debates. If Perry does well enough in those to convince the base that he can command the national stage, then the caucus and primary season won’t be long. It’ll be over before you know it.