• Which of these guys is most conservative—or, at least, least statist?
• Which is the most electable—or, least risky to run in the general election?
• Which of these guys will turn the ship around (especially economically) the most quickly?
Rick Perry “talks about his faith”—
Gingrich talks about “rebuilding America”—
Three center-right guys. Among the three, I’d argue that Perry is the closest to conservative, but YMMV. Certainly, he’s the only one who’s actually facilitated job creation (unless one counts being a corporate hatchet-man, which I don’t, really).
In a sense, Gingrich’s lack of ideological pro-limited government compass could make him a dangerous enemy. But exactly why Tea Party Republicans should embrace him, beyond understandable dissatisfaction with Romney, is unclear. One thing in Romney’s favor: he took moderate, often anti-libertarian positions while governing a very liberal state, suggesting that he may in fact have more conservative and pro-free market views. Gingrich’s statist inclinations, by contrast, seem entirely sincere.
The greatest threat of a destructive unknown unknown comes not from the known-to-be imperfect candidate, but from the seemingly perfect candidate.
And here is where the risk is with Romney. What is it that we are not even capable of imagining about him or his past which in an instant could destroy his candidacy?
Well, you might argue, we know everything about him, he’s been in a presidential campaign before, he has no known skeletons in the closet. And looking at his persona, it is hard to imagine something terribly wrong aside from known past policies.
That might be true, but if we are talking about true unknown unknowns, shouldn’t we be worrying about what was in the state records Romney and his assistants tried to destroy when he left office in Massachusetts? Romney’s staff spent nearly $100,000 to hide [those] records.
Gingrich’s fans say that he isn’t the same man he was then; he has “matured” in his 60s. Maybe so. But he’s still erratic: This year he flip-flopped three times on the top issue of the day, the House Republican plan to reform Medicare. He’s still undisciplined: He went on a vacation cruise at the start of his campaign. He still has the same old grandiosity: In recent weeks he has compared himself to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and said confidently that the nomination was his.
He still has the same need to justify his every petty move by reference to some grand theory. Plenty of politicians competing in Iowa come out for ethanol subsidies; only Gingrich would proclaim that in doing so he was standing up to city slickers in a culture war invented in his own mind. He still has a casual relationship with the truth. In recent weeks he has said that Freddie Mac (FMCC) paid him to condemn its business model, only for reporters and bloggers to find out that he had in fact shilled for the organization in return for about $1.6 million.
He still has the same penchant for sharing whatever revelation has just struck him, as with his recent musings about getting rid of child-labor laws. “He goes off the deep end and throws things out there,” says Joe McQuaid, the publisher of the Manchester Union Leader, which has endorsed Gingrich. He means it as a compliment, but it doesn’t strike me as one of the top traits to seek in a president. Many voters may have the same reaction.
I think the first and most difficult step is for Perry to stop being a bad candidate. He has gotten a bit better under the radar, but needs to continue to improve.
If Perry does improve, he may stand a shot at placing third in the Iowa caucuses. The new Des Moines Register poll has Perry near the bottom at six percent, but the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. PPP has a poll in the field in Iowa and teases that Perry appears to be in double digits.
The Register poll shows more respondents choose Gingrich as their second choice than any other candidate. However, Perry could benefit not only from Herman Cain’s collapse, but also from lingering doubts about Gingrich….
If Perry climbs back into third place (or at least ties it with Ron Paul) in Iowa, he has a shot at maintaining a viable campaign. There is the traditional spin about there being three tickets out of Iowa and Perry — like Romney and Gingrich — is blessed by his rivals. Conservative voters are looking for a viable NotRomney, and while they are currently flocking to Gingrich, all the polling suggests his support (like those for his rivals) remains soft.
NotRomney voters may also be looking for an insurance policy, given Gingrich’s demonstrated propensity to implode.
Personally, I’d like to return to the version of reality in which the GOP has a fully anti-statist candidate with no truly heavy baggage to run: a low-risk candidate. However, I can only get to that happy place by falling asleep, so it’s down to these three guys.
And I would dearly love to see a series of Gingrich-Obama debates, but would the mainstream networks even carry ‘em? And is that luscious spectacle worth the risks inherent in nominating Gingrich? I’m no longer so sure about that.