Confessions Of A RINO: Why I’m Not Sold On Rick Perry…Yet. Or, How I May Have To Learn To
Love Live With Mitt Romney
Let me say upfront…I want to like Rick Perry. I want to vote for Rick Perry. I’m provisionally on board with Rick Perry. What I’m not is…sold on Rick Perry.
What this post is about is my personal process of selecting a candidate. I’m not talking about what polling shows or how the race to 270 electoral votes is going to play out. It’s just about what I’m looking for in a candidate and quite frankly, what I’m not seeing from Rick Perry…yet.
A lot of smart people I respect were bullish on a Rick Perry candidacy. They talked about his commitment to conservative principles, he strong instincts on important issues and his formidable political skills/team. So when Perry announced at the Red State convention, I was pretty excited.
At that point the speech was one of the few times I’d ever seen or heard him. Beyond a speech he’d given that Values Voter convention (I think) and an interview on FNC with Neil Cavuto, all I really knew about Perry was based on what others were saying.
Since then, I’ve seen a couple of his speeches and appearances on TV and of course the debates.
My verdict thus far…he’s simply left me less than impressed.
Perry says all the right things (mostly) from a conservative point of view but I’m left wondering if there’s any there there. It’s not that he’s a big talking, larger than life Texan (though let’s not pretend it’s not an open question in how his persona will play in some key states), it’s that once he’s challenged to go beyond a base pleasing talking point, he’s come up dry.
The old saying is you campaign in poetry and govern in prose. Well, Perry has the conservative rhyme and meter down pat but I need to see a little bit of the prose too. I want to know that not only does my candidate say the right things but he or she actually can articulate the basis for their stance. I want them to be able to communicate conservative principles and policies in a way that explains and convinces as much as it induces simple head nods from the choir.
A great example of this are guys like Chris Christie and Scott Walker. They both proposed radical changes in how their states do business with their public employees in blue/purplish (respectively) states. They didn’t simply assert it was the right or obvious thing to do. They laid out an indictment of the current systems, the course of action they proposed to take and the benefits that would accrue to the state if they go their way. When confronted with opposition, they explained, argued and convinced.
I know campaigning is a different dynamic than governing but a candidate needs to show they have that skill in their arsenal. The chance to govern is after all the entire point of campaigning. A candidate has to demonstrate they understand the policy implications of their rhetoric and that they have the ability to serve as Salesman in Chief once elected.
Perry on Social Security, to take the a prime example, has been a disaster to my mind. He’s right on the policy…it’s a Ponzi scheme, it’s a fraud on younger workers and it has to be reformed in dramatic ways. He’s got the critique down pat. What he doesn’t have is, the answer to the question from the end of The Candidate, “What do we do now?”
What exactly would a President Perry do about this unconstitutional, failed, fraud?
Last night on Hannity he said, “We ought to have a conversation” about how to fix Social Security. What? You are running using the most inflammatory language about a program long considered the 3rd rail of politics and you want people to elect you in order to have “a conversation” about it?
That’s a joke. A bad joke.
The campaign is the time to have the discussion and no policy discussion is complete without a proposed solution.
Now, I understand the politics of this. Reforming Social Security is a lot more popular in theory than it will be in reality. People loved the idea of health care reform, they just hated all the options on the table.
Right now Perry is asking the GOP to go into the most important election in decades on the promise to hold “a conversation” on his signature domestic policy reform?
Obama, the Democrats and the media will eat him alive on that. You know how I know? Mitt Romney is doing it right now. The base may side with Perry over Romney but come November 2012, the conservative base will only be a part of the electorate.
But it’s not just Social Security that has me wondering what Perry wants to do.
Perry is rightfully proud of his record in Texas on job creation but he’s yet to make the case how that will transfer to the presidency. A President can’t poach jobs from other states by creating a better regulatory and tax environment than competing states. A President can’t count on population and capital migration like Texas has.
Most importantly a President can’t count on an electorate that mostly shares his philosophy. Perry’s ability to get voters and GOP legislators in Texas to agree with his broad philosophical approach to governing is one thing, transferring that to the Presidency is something else. It can be done of course, I just want to get a sense of how Perry sees doing that or at the very least that he understands that’s a challenge he hasn’t had to face yet.
Now, I think there’s a story to be told there and a case to be made. But Perry has to make it. He doesn’t have to get into the nitty gritty of tax reform, foreign policy or budget priorities but he has to talk about them in a way that shows he understands the tools (and limits) a President has to work with. He needs to make the case that he can take his experience at the state level and adapt and apply it at the federal level. Instead, Perry simply falls back on anecdotes about what he did in Texas. Ok, that’s good for people just tuning in but at some point we need to move past biography and into the future. Perry supporters will say that will come in contrast to Obama but I’m not willing to buy him on faith. I want to see those skills now or at least soon.
You can certainly make an argument that these “debates” are flawed and I won’t argue with that. Still, it’s what we have. I know Perry can give a good speech and he can write all the op-eds in the world but the true test comes when a candidate has to explain himself, ideally in an environment where they are challenged. I’d have love to have seen Perry at the South Carolina forum Senator Jim DeMint held on Labor Day but unfortunately, Perry had to attend to his duties as Governor. Maybe there will be something like that soon or at least a town hall or two where he needs to think on his feet and is forced beyond his talking point comfort zone.
From the start it was clear that supporting and nominating Perry would mean an election fought more on principles than normal. So far, Perry has shown a willingness to pick the right fights, I just haven’t seen anything to make me think he’s the guy to win it or capitalize on that victory later.
As I said,, I want to like and vote for Perry. I’ve defended him in the past, even against charges he was too vague. But that was before the debates before his campaign really even got started. Yes, it’s been less than a month but he was the one who decided to wait to get in. He can’t simply expect everyone else to slow down while he gets up to speed. He entered as the front runner, he needs to live up to that. Is there still time? Sure. But I need to start seeing some hope, some signs not of perfection but improvement. The game is on. He’s got two strikes against him. I hope he doesn’t get a third tonight.
What about Mitt Romney? He is a flawed candidate. A very, very flawed candidate. I don’t want to vote for him for a number of reasons but if Perry doesn’t step up soon, very soon. I’m going to have to begin the process of accepting I will have to support him over Perry.
Will Romney be a more conservative President than Perry? Of course not but at this point, I’m not sure Perry can be President or even should be President. I might (again…might) have to hope that we will see an even more conservative House and a GOP majority in the Senate (with more conservatives there too). Together they will serve as a pull to the right for a, God help me, President Romney.
It’s hard for me to right a pro-Romney agreement right now or why I would find myself supporting him over Perry. I simply don’t want to have to face that yet.
Don’t do this to me Rick Perry. Step up, show me you have some communication skills and policy chops to match the talk. Without them, it’s just talk, just words.