By John Barron
The entry of Texas Governor Rick Perry into the race for the Republican Presidential nomination less than three weeks ago has certainly shaken things up. The fragility of the more moderate Mitt Romney’s frontrunner status has been revealed to all, as has the thinness of conservative support for Michele Bachmann.
In Perry there seems to be a candidate that fiscal Tea Party conservatives and evangelical Christian conservatives can agree on.
A series of polls from Gallup have Perry surging to the front nationally and in crucial early states Iowa and South Carolina, and making major gains in Romney’s heartland of New Hampshire. Crucially, Perry’s lead over Romney is made up entirely of Tea Partiers; take them out of the mix and it’s a dead heat.
But even as primary filing deadlines loom, Perry may not be the last late entry into this contest, which doesn’t get down to actually voting until February next year.
Last week’s speculation that former New York Governor George Pataki may enter highlights the lingering concerns the GOP establishment and the remnants of “Rockefeller Republicans” — more often dismissed these days as RINOs, or Republicans In Name Only — have about nominating a candidate who may prove to be too conservative to appeal to the political centre.
It was also a week when the only other moderate in the race, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, gave a series of interviews and pointed tweets, warning Republicans against becoming a party that denies climate science, places creationism on a scientific par with evolution, describes social security as a “Ponzi scheme,” and attacks the foundations of federalism.
It was Perry’s rapid rise that prompted Huntsman to shift gears from meek to mildly peeved, and while it may not lead him to the nomination, it suggests for the first time why he’s in the contest, and that he and other moderates see an opening.
Huntsman is running to the left of Romney, in a wide-open lane, while Perry, Bachmann, Santorum, Cain and Gingrich all run to the crowded right. Ron Paul, in his quixotic fashion, manages to run along the left and right rails at the same time.
Arguably Huntsman is much closer ideologically than the rest to where the Republican candidate will have to be to beat Obama in fourteen months, but he’s nowhere near where the likely Republican caucus and primary voters will be early next year.
But with Huntsman registering about 2 per cent and Romney slipping, moderates are still scouting around. In the end, George Pataki opted not to put his hat in the ring but there’s still talk that Rudy Giuliani may jump in if Romney continues to fade. Maybe Indiana’s Mitch Daniels would heed a draft call?
It probably doesn’t matter. The grassroots of the GOP, increasingly defined by the Tea Party, are in no mood to compromise; they proved during the debt ceiling standoff that their DNA lacks a Pragmatic Gene. They want the candidate they want and right now that’s Rick Perry — but it could still be Sarah Palin.
Most people I’ve spoken to in recent weeks on the Republican side now think the presidency is theirs to lose next year. But many moderates fear that with Tea Party-backed Perry or Bachmann or Palin as their nominee, they will still find a way to lose it.
30 August 2011