Friday, August 5, 2011

Rick Perry as a General Election Candidate

On the question of whether Rick Perry would be a solid general election candidate, which was a topic running around these intertubes yesterday, I strongly side with Matt Yglesias against Kevin Drum: on paper, based on what we know, there's no reason to believe that he'd be a weak general election candidate.

In the event, of course, Perry could turn out to be a dud candidate. If he is, however, he'll likely fail to win the nomination. If he makes it through that hurdle, and barring scandal or some other major shocker, I'd think he'd be as good as anyone. Yglesias is right: reasonably successful (well, at least re-elected) governor of a big state...that's a solid presidential candidate, right there.

There's a clear possibility in my view that GOP nomination politics will be so nutty that the eventual nominee, whoever it is, will be at least somewhat damaged by it; as I've said before, the odds of the Republicans nominating a crazy candidate aren't very high, but the odds of them nominating someone who has said crazy things keep increasing. That applies to Perry, but also to Romney and Pawlenty. The truth is that in a general election, they're all basically interchangeable. Any differences are likely to be around the margins (my guess is the biggest variable would be if religion really does prevent Romney from capturing some votes, but I just don't really see that in a general election). Now, a Bachmann or a Palin or a Cain or a Santorum would stand a good chance of doing worse -- say, 3 to 5 points worse -- than a generic Republican, but Perry? I don't see why.


  1. Perry is heavily associating himself with elements of the Religious Right that many, perhaps most, people, outside of the Religous Right, would see as extreme and find alarming. If he continues to do so, with the full and hearty embrace he has exhibted so far, despite his greater excutive experience, he could end up appearing only slightly less fringe than Bachmann or Palin.

    You are in Texas aren't you? I spent my childhood in Texas, have born again, earnest and sincere Christian cousins all over the state. I think living in that culture, taking the kind of display Perry is organizing this weekend for granted, may make it difficult to see or believe how radical the beliefs, about religion's relationship to government, of the organizations sponsoring that rally this weekend, will be perceived by people in other parts of the country with very different religious histories and cultures.

    In my state, Washington, a much more unchurched state I'll admit, similar religious elements took over the Republican state party in '96. Their candidate made statements about her relationship to God and God's place in government that were very similar to statement's Perry has made recently, and that were very alarming to moderate voters in our state. Her nomination drove many moderate Republicans toward the Democrats and many others into the Libertarian Party (the Libertarian Party qualified as a major party in our state as a result of that election season). The upshot for Republicans is that they haven't won a statewide election since.

    Perhaps Perry will be able to pivot from the heavy emphasis on religion, that he appears to be using to kick off his bid for national attention, to a strong economic message based in his record. But, given the radicalism of the religous movement he is associating himself with, and the kind of statements he is making to woo that movement, that may end up being more difficult to do than he anticipates.

  2. Let me clarify; the Religous Right candidate I was referring to was Helen Craswell, a candidate for governor.

    Washington has a very conservative "East of the Mountains" political culture that is heavily Republican. But the more moderate to liberal "West of the mountains" has more population density. For statewide elections, the Republicans have to put forward candidates that appeal to the West of the Mountain moderates. But their base is East of the Mountain conservatives. I think the problem is somewhat similar to the Republicans situation nationwise now -- a conservative Southern base that is going to determine a national nominee who has also be able to appeal to people in much parts of the country with much different cultures.

  3. Anon: Bush spoke that same language, and yet the simple models (economy, incumbency, number of terms the current party has held presidency) were pretty darn accurate predicting his vote share. I'm out here in CA, granted, but what I've seen of Perry makes him no less nutty than the mainstream of his party, except maybe on states' rights, but that's not really an issue for anyone. I could be mistaken, but I think he's in the mainstream of the GOP with his god-speak.

  4. In general, you want to be a California Republican or an Arkansas Democrat. You don't want to be a New York Democrat, nor (what I'd argue is the same thing) a Texas Republican. Obviously the counter-example of George W. Bush exists, but he governed Texas much differently from how Perry has. The point isn't that that distinction will ever be reflected in the campaign press coverage, but that habits develop and there's no evidence that Perry has any crossover appeal or inclination. His appeal has always been to the yahoos.


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