After sounding for all the world as if he were dropping out of the Republican primary race Wednesday morning, Rick Perry tweeted he wasn’t less than 12 hours later (said tweet included the picture to the left).
It’s yet another mystifying twist for the Texas governor, who has managed to parlay what was once strong conservative support into a mere 10% finish in the Iowa caucuses. This is despite the fact that he is telegenic, has an immense campaign war chest, the Super PAC “Make us Great Again” is in his corner and has a history of job creation in his home state that should play well in this year’s campaign cycle. Despite these advantages, Perry’s poll numbers continue to drop precipitously. For the past month, he has basically tracked at around 6% nationally; suggesting his relatively good showing in Iowa may be an outlier and portend even worse electoral showings in the future.
There are several reasons that the more the country has gotten the chance to know Rick Perry, the more his numbers drop.
- Public speaking isn’t a strong suit: For most of us, this would be problematic. For a politician, it’s failing at their bread and butter. Perry often comes across in public speaking engagements as befuddled. That may actually be a kind way of expressing his speaking abilities. The reality is he is cringe-inducing when on stage, whether reading from prepared statements or trying to speak “off-the-cuff.” Anyone who watched his bumbling attempts at reading a campaign activist’s letter the other night couldn’t have been impressed. It’s a continuation of a theme that began in earnest with his debate performances (or rather, non-performances). Perry supporters continually dismiss his speaking ability is irrelevant, but the American people have a different opinion. Why? Anyone who has ever taken a public speaking course knows the answer. How you speak in public conveys hidden information regarding your confidence and intelligence. If you want to be seriously considered as Presidential material, it’s fine to be an average speaker. But turning in performances that wouldn’t be suitable for kindergarten won’t win you many votes.
- Illegal Immigration: Perry actually has strong record on attempting to get the Federal government to live up to its responsibility in maintaining border security. That includes urging the current administration to assign National Guard units to patrol the border between Texas and Mexico. Unfortunately for him, he was side-swiped by a decision he made to offer in-state tuition rates to the children of illegal immigrants in Texas. For immigration hard-liners (for whom, nothing short of execution will seem satisfy them), this was a couple of steps too far. Having a moderate position regarding immigration isn’t really anathema to Republican rank-and-file (Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both shared similar values), but there is a hard core movement on the right that absolutely refuses to address immigration pragmatically. Rather than take time to fully outline his immigration policy (a sensible plan, that actually reinforces the American ideals of fairness while adopting a tough stance on border security), Perry has vacillated on the issue under the heat of public scrutiny.
- The HPV Mess and privacy rights: In 2007, Governor Perry mandated that underage girls be given the HPV vaccine. His motives sound reasonable. After all, cancer is a terrible disease and a vaccine that can help prevent a form should be lauded. But the mandate runs afoul of several long-standing conservative principles. First is that conservatives (and most liberals, as well) have an aversion to the idea the government can determine what is best for our children. Second is the idea that the government can enforce rules regarding our personal health. Finally, while not particularly vocalized but certainly an affront to religious conservatives, is that the vaccine is used to prevent a sexually transmitted disease in underage girls. It certainly didn’t help Perry’s case when Merck, the maker of the vaccine, was found to have made significant contributions to the Perry campaign. He has attempted to disavow the mandate since, but it’s a bit like closing the barn door long after the horse left.
There are other issues that Perry has found himself fending off, such as his supposed Islamic leanings. (Personally, those seem to be fabricated). Undoubtedly, he never counted on facing such intense scrutiny from his right flank but his inability to properly counter says something about his fitness for office. So does his inability to properly staff his campaign, leading to his not being on the Virginia primary ballot. Can Perry overcome the numerous gaffes he and his campaign have made thus far and still win the nomination? If this were any other candidate possessing the campaign money he does, I would say certainly. But I can’t see it happening here. Perry has yet to demonstrate a feel for the national political stage and worse, seems to be slow on the uptake. I suspect more than a belief he can win the nomination is his personal animosity towards Mitt Romney. If preventing Romney from winning the nomination is the overriding reason Perry is staying in the race, I suggest he drop out sooner than later. I don’t see a way this version can sell his candidacy outside of Texas and his staying in the race will only serve to fracture the conservative base of the party. In case anyone else remembers, it was Fred Thompson’s misguided attempt at reviving his campaign in South Carolina that led to John McCain’s coasting to the Republican nomination in 2008. We all should remember how that turned out.
In light of these failings, I urge Governor Perry to exit the race and support the one true conservative left in the race, Senator Rick Santorum.