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.
The Iowa caucuses are over. As usual, they haven’t defined who will win – but they appear to have narrowed the field considerably. Here’s five things other things Iowans clarified last night.
1. The GOP establishment is in trouble: The Republican Old Guard has rallied around Mitt Romney, pitching him as the “electable” candidate who is “inevitable.” They may not say as much, but they have to be worried. Their inevitable candidate has yet to blast through his glass ceiling of support, ending up with only 25% of last night’s vote. Or, to put it in terms they don’t want to hear, 75% of Republican rank-and-file aren’t buying into either the electability or inevitability of Romney – margins eerily similar to the polling prior to the caucus in both Iowa and the national party. They’ll continue to pour in their support (see: John McCain), but Romney is in for a much tougher fight than he or his establishment backers originally thought. A real sign of trouble will be if Romney can’t get past 40% in New Hampshire. If that happens, expect the establishment to really open up with a full barrage – and risk alienating their party’s base of support.
2. Tea Party Conservatives are coalescing: around Rick Santorum. This is the big story out of the caucuses, and already the left is going off a cliff at the idea of a legitimate Santorum candidacy. The real question is how far can Santorum go? He has limited funding and a skeleton operation. He finished strong in Iowa based on old-fashioned retail politicking, a method which is impossible in a nationwide primary. Still, with Michelle Bachmann now officially out and Rick Perry sounding like he is, Tea Partiers are waking to the realization it’s either Santorum or Gingrich for them – and most have an understandable aversion to Newt. Romney may think Santorum will be easy pickings, based on the latter’s lack of political organization. But, the existing Tea Party groups (such as Tea Party Express) may give Santorum all the organization he needs to compete. If they publicly endorse Santorum in the coming days, look for his campaign to take off.
3. Newt Gingrich is back in his comfort zone: Newt as the peacemaker never really fit his temperament or his history. Based on his statements leading up to last night’s vote and his remarks after, it sounds as if Newt is going to happily stick around for as long as he can, if just to make life miserable for Romney. Lord knows hell hath no fury like a Gingrich crossed and it looks as if Mitt is about to discover that first hand.
4. The real “flavor of the month” was Ron Paul: No candidate needed a win in Iowa more than Paul. Although he tallied 21% of the vote, the stark reality is that among registered Republicans he only garnered 14%. This comes less than a week after leading all candidates among Republicans in Iowa. It seems once they became familiar with some of his zanier ideas and positions, GOP voters decided a man from Venus wasn’t their best option. Yes, Paul did well in bringing Democrats and independents in to vote for him and the fervor among his disciples is reminiscent of Obama in 2008, but his candidacy is basically over. Look for him to do well in New Hampshire’s open primary, then bolt to challenge Gary Johnson for the Libertarian Party nomination after getting whitewashed in South Carolina.
5. The key to the race is still held by Rick Perry: Perry is still officially in the race, although he has gone back to Texas to reexamine his candidacy. Politicians rarely return from self-imposed exile to resume a campaign. However, Perry still has the second largest war chest of any candidate and several PAC’s that were supporting him. Assuming he drops out of the race, the question is: does he keep his money for a potential bid in 2016, or throw that financial might behind a Santorum candidacy? Buoyed by Perry’s finances, Santorum becomes much more formidable – a fact that Perry, who harbors as much (if not more) animosity towards Romney as Gingrich should be all too aware of.
UPDATED 1:02PM: No sooner did I hit publish on this than I read this article from AP, insinuating Perry is going to continue at least through South Carolina. If that is the case (no confirmation yet one way or the other), than point number 5 becomes moot.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
“After 13 debates and most of a year of campaigning, the selection of a Republican nominee begins Tuesday night in Iowa.
“There’s one candidate in the field of seven whom Republicans cannot trust with their votes: Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
“Behind the grandfatherly, unpolished demeanor is a radical with economic and foreign policy views so dangerous they make him utterly unfit to be the party’s nominee, much less commander-in-chief.
“The congressman doesn’t simply want to reform the Federal Reserve bank, one of the pillars of a stable international monetary system. Paul wants to “end the Fed.”
“He doesn’t simply want to shift foreign aid, which, at about 1% of the U.S. budget, is generally a wise investment in saving lives and advancing American values. He wants to eliminate it.
“He views Social Security and Medicare as outright unconstitutional.
“Paul opposes sanctions to stop the Iranian mullahs from acquiring a nuclear weapon. He wants to withdraw all U.S. armed forces from Afghanistan, even if the Taliban and Al Qaeda take over again. He showed his warped thinking in an Op-Ed penned for these pages in October that ludicrously claimed the American drone strike that killed terror master Anwar al-Awlaki violated the Constitution.
“A former senior aide who worked with Paul for 15 years recalls that after the 9/11 attacks, Paul ‘engaged in conspiracy theories including perhaps the attacks were coordinated with the CIA” and “expressed no sympathies whatsoever for those who died on 9/11.’
“And we haven’t even mentioned the racially inflammatory and anti-Israel newsletters sent under Paul’s name in the 1980s and 1990s that he disavows and claims he never read.
“Late polls show that this man could win Iowa.
“Republican caucusgoers Tuesday night should do the country a service and bury Paul’s campaign in the cornfields.”
Here we go again. In four days, the nation is going to let a state representing 7 electoral votes set the tone for the quadrennial Presidential Election process. This state is hardly representative of the nation as a whole, either. The residents of Iowa have more disposable income than the rest of us. Demographically, Iowa is less ethnically diverse, less educated and more rural than the country in general. The state’s largest city, Des Moines, is ranked 106th in total population and 98th in population density – making it more a large suburb than an actual city.
Why do we do this? Why do we allow 1.2% of the nation’s populace decide the fate of the Unites States for the next four years? I can’t think of a particularly good reason. But I can think of a particularly good way to end the charade. Have all primaries conducted on the same day.
To be clear, I am NOT advocating for federal administration of primary elections. The states have done a fine job running them. If they would rather have the circus atmosphere of a caucus than an election, fine. If they want restrictive and onerous ballot rules, okay. This is directed at the national parties, who are responsible for creating the primary schedule and have perpetrated the insanity of allowing a very non-representative portion of the population to determine their candidates for President. (After Iowa comes New Hampshire, with its four electoral votes and even less representative of the nation).
But a National Primary Day does several things to help end the confusion common to Presidential primaries. First, it effectively ends the candidacy of people with marginal appeal. Let’s face it, by focusing all of their energies on one small state, some pretty marginal people have been able to enter the national conversation based on one position – only to fade into political oblivion. Mike Huckabee won Iowa, only to become a talk show host. Pat Buchanan used Iowa to re-energize a fading career as a political pundit. Howard Dean made plenty of noise in Iowa, only to become a punch-line on late night television. This year, can anyone really imagine that the race baiting history of a Ron Paul wouldn’t be a political albatross in states with more than a 5% minority population? Or that single issue candidates Michelle Bachmann or Rick Santorum would be players on a national stage?
Second, having all Presidential primaries contested at the same time would require candidates to create a national political organization. Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry were surprised by their inability to get on the Virginia primary ballot. Yet the underlying reason is their inability to properly organize. Gingrich can be excused, in a sense; his campaign is underfunded and was largely seen as a joke until last month (although, residing in Virginia probably means he should have understood the rules better than any other candidate). Perry, however, has oodles of money – more than anyone in the race not named Romney – and his inability is due simply to a lack of campaign oversight. Seriously, do we want a President who can’t organize well enough to ensure he’s on every state ballot? Or hire someone to do that for him? Making speeches is one thing, but ensuring the basics are attended to is an essential leadership trait. The United States federal government is a much larger enterprise than any political campaign. A candidate who can’t assume the responsibilities of Chief Executive of a political campaign certainly can’t be trusted to be the Chief Executive of the United States.
Finally, a National Primary Day ensures that every primary vote carries the same weight. The essential element is this: by giving various states an initial say in the nominating process, the citizens voting later have less input. Odds are that by the time “Super Tuesday” rolls around, the parties have already settled on a presumptive nominee. By the time I get to cast a ballot in June, the nominee has been decided – voting becomes nothing more than a pro forma exercise in civic responsibility. The effect, of course, is suppressed turnout in those states, which has dramatic effects on down ballot candidates and initiatives.
It is time to end the madness. Allowing the voters in Iowa (or New Hampshire) to have more input than voters in California (or us poor New Jerseyans) is one 19th century idea whose time has passed.