We're more than a year away from the 2012 election, but the GOP primary race got a lot more interesting over the weekend with the addition of long suspected candidate, Texas Governor, Rick Perry.
On Monday, the Daily Caller summed up the state of the GOP race as follows:
Mitt Romney is the kid in the front row who constantly raises his hand. Michele Bachmann is the popular girl who knows she’s better than you. And Rick Perry is the laid-back football player (in actuality, Perry was an “Aggie Yell Leader” — but this is about perception) who sits in the back of the class. He’s popular with the cool kids, yet still treats the outcasts with a degree of respect.
Everybody likes that guy, and in politics, likeability matters.
The analogy is oversimplified, but it works on balance. I'm no expert on Texas politics, but based on video I've seen, Perry has a natural affability with voters. I suspect this can be chalked up to his roots in rural America, places where friendliness is still a serious matter of social obligation.
There's also no question that Perry has the most compelling narrative of the top three candidates. It was chronicled at length in London's Telegraph, but even in a foreign daily, Gov. Perry's story reads like the stuff of fiction. Small town kid from a family of poor tenant farmers, who now has a very real chance to become the President of the United States. It's the kind of thing that can only happen in America, but it's not a bad storyline, even by UK standards.
Of course, Perry is not without some liabilities. In particular, he would make a general election race against President Obama especially polarizing. The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky sums the matter up fairly well:
During an Obama-Perry contest, millions of Americans on both sides would be shuddering constantly for four months. We’ve never had quite this kind of showdown culturally. Our present Kulturkampf dates only to the 1980s. There’s never been a cultural showdown of the sort Obama v. Perry would represent. Yes, Republicans hated Clinton, but he was Southern and enough of a good old boy that he cut across those lines to some extent. Gore was painted as an egghead, and was, but again Southern-ness diluted the cocktail a bit. Bush versus John Kerry is probably as close as we’ve come, but Kerry was never really quite threatening enough to Bush America to merit serious hatred. And John McCain, mostly because he was not Southern and partly because he was so old, was not nearly as perfect a foil for Obama as Perry would be.
Tomasky's complaint is that Rick Perry would reignite the culture wars, pitting red states against blue states, on a scale that we've never seen before in the history of history. Tomasky can be forgiven for sounding a bit like Henny Penny. The sky isn't falling, simply because Perry is the frontrunner. But Tomasky's right in that Perry would basically be President Obama's anti-twin, and the left's skin would surely crawl if he were elected as President, regardless of how he actually governed the country. The National Review's Rich Lowry ably predicts even more Perry hatred (along the lines of Tomasky's piece) in his latest column in the National Review. I think he's probably right.
But elections are about contrasts. Contrasting visions. Contrasting personalities. Contrasting styles. Assuming Perry wins the GOP nomination, which is still a big assumptions given Mitt Romney's massive political machine, he will present a contrast with the President in basically every way as Tomasky notes.
The conventional wisdom says voters want choices. They'll have some fairly stark ones come November 2012