Rick Perry appears to be on the move. He's working the phones, calling Republican operatives and politicians around the country. Some of them are being summoned to Austin. Polls are showing him coming in at an almost statistical tie with Romney should he enter the race.
We need to start getting prepared if this guy jumps in. He's a game-changer and he is probably the biggest threat to Democratic interests. Don't let overconfidence in President Obama fool you. Obama can be beaten with the right combination of a strong candidate and a bad economy. It is difficult to unseat a sitting president, but with the right combination of factors it can be done. In almost every case, it has been done by a superior candidate beating a president in a period of high unemployment.
Perry is reaching out to major Republican fundraisers, many of which have been sitting on the fence so far. He is the head of the Republican Governors Association, which Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour used to tremendous Republican advantage in the 2010 election. He's already raised a record breaking $22 million for the RGA. That is certainly going to enhance his national clout. As kos has often taught us, Governors and Mayors make a huge difference when it comes to running a national election. He is the longest serving Governor in the country and there are now a slew of Republican governors he will have at his fingertips.
Texas. Big Oil. Nuff said about that.
Keep in mind that this will also be the era of the Citizens United ruling. Corporations will have an unlimited playing field to engage on Perry's behalf. If Mitt Romney is a battleship, Rick Perry is an aircraft carrier surface battle fleet in terms of fundraising. In short, Rick Perry will be as potent and powerful a fundraiser as Barack Obama.
There is more. Rick Perry is a rock-solid social conservative, and his right-wing bona-fides among that group unquestioned. There are some vulnerabilities Democrats can exploit, but I wont discuss that now. I'll do a weaknesses diary later. But for now, just understand that Rick Perry has strong support from the American Taliban wing of the Republican party. The large number of prayer breakfasts and prayer meetings he's held over his long term as governor have, while not endearing them to him as much as George W. Bush, have indicated to them he's hospitable. Furthermore, Perry has been a staunch anti-choice Governor, working hard to pass laws restricting abortion in Texas.
Next, Rick Perry was Tea Party before Tea Party was cool. When it comes to slash and burn budget cuts and constant lowering of taxes leading to government shrinkage, he's the most right wing governor in office today. He's the guy who even stirred up secession talk during the height of the heathcare debate. He's been consistent throughout his career on issues of small government and "returning power to the states." This is perhaps one of his more seductive selling points. More on this later. There is some grumbling among Tea Partiers thathe isn't conservative enough, of course. Especially over immigration issues. But I have no doubt the vast majority of the conservative base will find him acceptable enough.
As to corporate power country-club set, Perry is a charter member. Due to his completely big-oil friendly record, I have no doubt that he will find plenty of support on Wall Street and in multinational boardrooms. Anything a big corporation in Texas wants, it gets from Perry. He just signed perhaps the most anti-consumer tort reform law in the country. Furthermore he is about the most anti-union Governor in the nation, but he is extremely quiet about it. He famously took the 5th Amendment during the Wisconsin battle. While that may open a line of attack on him in the primary, his record in Texas should be more than sufficient to convince the money boys he's on their side.
In summary, Perry has enough credentials to unite the three pillars of the Republican base in a way perhaps no other candidate in field can. Furthermore, he's a rock solid Republican record to prove it. If he wins the nomination, he'll have a united party.
As a campaigner, Perry is a natural. He's never lost a race for any office he's run for, and very few of them were close. He's slick on the stump in Texas, although we haven't seen how he can perform under the national spotlight. But if there is a good training ground for a presidential candidate, a big state like Texas would be it. It's got five major media markets and Perry is comfortable under the spotlight. Perhaps he will need some conditioning to achieve presidential quality (way too much hand gestures!), but he's so far shown a willingness to practice the discipline and determination it takes to win.
For a good sample of his stump, take a look at this. Of all the candidates in the field, there isn't perhaps anybody as good on the stump as Perry except perhaps Palin. He's animated , and emotional on the stump. He'll probably improve if the past is any indication. But he certainly isn't afraid of the camera. When it comes to debate, he's not very good. Obama will probably wipe the floor with him in a debate. Just like John Kerry could wipe the floor with George W. Bush. But he' s certainly not a McCain. He'll be good enough to get his soundbytes in without having the lack of gravitas and annoying voice that Palin has.
As far as presence, he's got a presidential look. Great hair. He's 6 foot 1 and lean, just about matching Obama as far as stage presence. He doesn't have that 1000-watt winner's smile that the President has, but he's adequate. As far as his ability to inspire love and loyalty, that just isn't him. Rick Perry is the kind of man who would rather be feared than loved, according to Texas politics writer Paul Burka.
Burka also cautioned people that Perry is not Bush:
Perry is not George Bush. Don’t assume that because Bush and Perry served together in the Capitol, or because they’re both Republican Texans who wear boots, the two men have a lot in common. They don’t. As governor, Bush positioned himself as “a uniter, not a divider,” championing education as one of his main priorities. Perry has been the opposite kind of chief executive: dismissive of Democrats and fond of political maneuvers that put the heat on moderates within his own party. And in the legislative session that just wrapped up, he presided over a budget that cut $4 billion from public schools. The cultural differences are striking too. Perry, the son of a Big Country cotton farmer, is at ease with a populist tea party message; W., the scion of a political dynasty, always seemed more comfortable with the country club set. They have followed starkly different paths. When W. began his political career, he had a famous name, access to his father’s huge national fund-raising base, and the backing of the establishment wing of the Republican party. As a late arrival in the Republican ranks, Perry had no fund-raising base and little name identification.
Perry had to scrap and claw his way up the Republican ranks, which is especially notable since he began his career as a Democrat and was Al Gore's Texas campaign manager. I've always said that somebody who had to hustle their up to the Presidency, like both Clinton and Obama, are generally going to be better campaigners than those whom come from political families. They've just had to work harder to get where they are, making them tougher.
But here is the most seductive part of the Perry pitch, I think: The states rights stuff. Perry is a 10th Amendment nutcase. But lately, he's been skillfully using that same language to appeal to social moderates without losing his conservative base. Kossack seanflynn wrote about this yesterday.
Here is Rick Perry on marriage equality:
"Our friends in New York six weeks ago passed a statute that said marriage can be between two people of the same sex. And you know what? That's New York, and that's their business, and that's fine with me," he said to applause from several hundred GOP donors in Aspen, Colo. "That is their call. If you believe in the 10th Amendment, stay out of their business."
Rick Perry on abortion:
Despite holding personal pro-life beliefs, Texas Gov. Rick Perry categorized abortion as a states’ rights issue today, saying that if Roe v. Wade was overturned, it should be up to the states to decide the legality of the procedure.
“You either have to believe in the 10th Amendment or you don’t,” Perry told reporters after a bill signing in Houston. “You can’t believe in the 10th Amendment for a few issues and then [for] something that doesn’t suit you say, 'We’d rather not have states decide that.'”
We're seeing a pattern here. Whenever Rick Perry doesn't want to come down hard on an issue, deflect it, or take some of the sting out of his hard-right position, he quickly moves to the 10th Amendment. It's a very seductive "let and let live" argument without really being it. That leads me to believe than on domestic issues from healthcare to social security to infrastructure, his mantra is going to be "Everyone can see that the federal government is dysfunctional. Both sides cant make anything work. I mean look, we almost defaulted because they cant make it work. Better to let the states do it." It is will probably be the key counter-argument to Obama's "lets get both sides to work together to make the federal government effective" spiel. I can totally see him transferring that social argument to an economic one. As in "Vermont shouldn't have to ask the Federal Government if they want single-payer socialism. If thats what they want, fine by me. If Texas wants free market healthcare, no problem. If Florida wants Medicare, fine. Lets have Florida-based Medicare." It's wrong, but its political snake oil.
And finally, Rick Perry will have the opportunity to frame the debate by asking the question that has undone the last two Presidents to get unseated:
Are you better off than you were four years ago?
No matter who wins the GOP nomination, President Obama has to get something done about jobs, housing, and the broader economy. Not the deficit. Jobs and housing. It's going to be tough, close election. It is especially the case if he has to face a slick snake-oil salesman like Rick Perry.