If GOP strategists plan to use Rick Perry to thin the Republican field, they risk further disasters
It’s too early to be writing about the White House race for 2012, but here goes anyway–
The GOP field is shaping up, against all odds, to be interesting. Here’s the game:
First, only one candidate, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), stands out. Of all the possible Republican candidates announced and unannounced, Paul is the only one who combines genuine personal character, a genuinely conservative belief system, and the ability to connect with audiences because he says valid things—as far as they go—clearly. He does not equivocate; he does not backpedal on past positions; he does not characterize himself in metaphors. Michele Bachmann has called herself a “voice” probably dozens of times in interviews since winning the Iowa straw poll Saturday. Paul does not do that kind of thing; he tends to be given too little air time to waste any part of it in indirectness or vagueness. Paul also does not attack other candidates in personal terms, and he does not blame others for his actions—again unlike Bachmann, who as an attorney does not hesitate to blame her specialization in tax law on her husband. Paul is also consistent. For these and whatever other reasons, he is also a big money getter, in small donations, and has strong organization and widespread grass-roots support.
All the other GOP candidates, regardless of flavor, are essentially corporate mouthpieces. Differences in degree do not become a difference in kind. Huntsman and Romney may look the part more than do Bachmann and Palin, but the core fiscal hooey remains intact: whether the messenger is Gingrich or Giuliani, Perry or Palin, Santorum or Satan, the message is rich-get-richer. They don’t put it that way, of course. But it’s always there.
Undoubtedly Paul’s intense fiscal conservatism, or conservative libertarianism, would conduce to the same end. But with Paul, the inevitable benefit to the wealthy and to corporations from refusing to raise taxes is a by-product of policy. It is not an end in itself as it is for all the others. Opposition to the war in Iraq, opposition to the ‘war on terror,’ opposition to the ‘war on drugs’–he is not Wall Street controlled, though the anti-tax stand works that way. He represents a threat.
Second, all the other GOPers split the not-Ron-Paul vote. And all the others are weaker candidates individually, and there are a lot of them—Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani maybe, Jon Huntsman, maybe Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum. Even with Tim Pawlenty’s unsurprising winnowing out, there are so many Republican candidates that nothing prevents the entry of yet more latecomers into the race.
So (as I was musing in notes last week, while away on family matters) we should see a lot of rightist commentators and pollsters, and a lot of corporate-media headline writers, working overtime to winnow the not-Ron-Paul field. The goal will be to shut out Ron Paul, and these are people who understand the logic of arithmetic–except when it comes to the benefit of issuing U.S. Treasury bonds at a lower interest rate, to pay off bonds with a higher rate. (The analogy is to refinancing your mortgage, and it would be illuminating to know which members of Congress have refinanced their own houses, but that information is not publicly available. Residences of congress members are exempted from financial disclosure.) The interim project will be to clear a path for someone they consider plausible as GOP nominee. That would be Romney, for most, or Perry, they fondly believe. Little do they know.
As to tactics, the immediate tactics are simple. One, ignore or downplay Ron Paul. Paul’s near-win was a virtual tie with Bachmann in the Iowa straw poll, but that fact would be difficult to glean from the political reporting:
“A victory by Paul would have been a blow to Bachmann, who brought considerable momentum to the vote and needed the victory to validate her standing as the frontrunner in the state. It also would have hurt the credibility and future of the straw poll, a number of Republicans here said.”
Two, anoint a very few candidates as instant ‘top tier.’ Already done. As of this week the putative top tier comprises Bachmann, Perry, and Romney.
And third, bring out the conservative troops—in politics and in the media–to ridicule and/or to disparate the cannon fodder. Paradoxically, Bachmann straddles both the top-tier category and the cannon-fodder category.
Space precludes a round-up of entertaining examples of the third tactic at this time. More later.
Update Aug. 16:
Validating any sensible person’s summation, Rick Perry came out swinging–in a way to prevent anyone’s thinking he is ready for prime time. Here is the putative future president, on the topic of the Federal Reserve:
““If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I dunno what y’all would do to him in Iowa but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treasonous in my opinion.”
You can put lipstick on a hog . . .
If Perry is actually going to run for the White House, rather than just being the pool stick to open the table for some media-anointed figure with more credibility, he will have to learn that he is addressing the nation, not a bunch of half-drunks stumbling into the political remarks after a rib feast sponsored by the local savings & loan.
Should be a lesson, meantime, to all the pundits eager to attribute gravitas to any candidate with a proven ability to fund-raise while simultaneously being white and male.