Rick Perry has gotten the Sarah Palin treatment since he declared his intention to run for the presidency. No surprise there. The long knives always come out for anyone who excites conservatives and could be the next President. That's not to say that Perry doesn't have flaws. He does. Like any politician who's actually governed, he's had his share of mistakes, miscues, and screw-ups. Of course, you could even say the same thing about Ronald Reagan, who's quite properly considered to be one of the best Presidents in history despite the fact that he raised taxes, signed comprehensive immigration reform, and allowed the deficit to explode under his watch.
That's not to say Rick Perry is another Ronald Reagan. Historically, men like Reagan don't come along all that often. Moreover, note that this column IS NOT an endorsement of Rick Perry. Yes, he'd be a strong candidate, but he's not the only strong candidate in the race, nor is the field necessarily set yet. If, however, Perry does end up getting the nod, that's something conservatives could feel good about. Why?
1) Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! While Barack Obama and the Democratic Party were promising the country jobs that they never delivered with their failed trillion dollar stimulus package, Rick Perry was actually getting the job done in Texas. As Rick Perry himself has proudly noted, "Since June 2009, nearly 40% of the net new jobs in America have been created in Texas." Whether it's Reagan or Perry, the liberal response to those sort of phenomenal numbers is always the same, "Those are hamburger-flipping minimum wage McJobs!" But, if that's true, how can it be that Texas is the 3rd best place in America to make a living with an adjusted average income of $41,427? What our economy needs is a lot less socialism and a lot more Rick Perry.
2) Governors make better candidates than members of Congress. There are reasons why only 3 sitting Senators (Harding, Kennedy, Obama) and one sitting Congressman (Garfield) have ever been elected President. First and foremost among them is that most people hate the politicians in Washington -- and for good reason. Right now, the approval rating of Congress is hovering around 10%. Is that really the fetid swamp we want to pluck someone out of to challenge Obama?
Furthermore, senators and congressmen get trapped. Either they end up voting for odious bills as part of a deal or like Michele Bachmann, they end up being accused of never having "done anything" because almost the only significant legislation that seems to get passed these days are monstrosities like Obamacare and the stimulus. Fairly or unfairly, governors get to sidestep those issues and they tend to be much stronger candidates because of it.
3) Rick Perry is someone you'd like to have a beer with. Political junkies tend to roll their eyes at the old, "Who would you rather go to a ballgame with / have pizza with / have a beer with?" question. After all, shouldn't the election be all about issues? Here's the thing: If you go back for 40 years, at a minimum (Nixon vs. McGovern is a little hard to call) the most likable candidate has won every single presidential election.
The good news on that front for the GOP is that the snobbish, emotionally stunted, I-blame-everybody-but-me, lecturing Barack Obama of 2012 is a lot less likable than the hopey, changey, I-am-whoever-you-want-me-to-be Obama of 2008. Rick Perry is well positioned to take advantage of that. Unlike his fellow Texan George Bush, he has charisma. Not only can he give a good speech, he's come across extremely well in teleconferences I've been on and friends who've had a chance to go shooting with him in Texas have spoken quite highly of his personal skills. The Rick Perry that the American people are going to see on the campaign trail will be someone they will like much more than Obama.
4) His biggest weakness could be much worse. You'll hear lots of criticism of Rick Perry on every ground imaginable, but most of it is overblown -- from the politically miscalculated Gardasil kerfuffle to his supposedly scandalous desire to build more roads (It's a NAFTA SUPER HIGHWAY! Panic....for some reason or another). After looking at his record, however, there is one area that I do find genuinely troubling, his position on illegal immigration. Texas is an agriculture-friendly border state, and its population is roughly 37% Hispanic. In a state like that, the pressure on the governor to be illegal-alien-friendly is going to be ENORMOUS.
In Perry's case, although he's probably to George Bush's right on illegal immigration, he is still soft on the issue. Happily, what's changed over the past few years is the political environment. From 2005-2010, there was a genuine danger that comprehensive illegal immigration (amnesty for illegals, promises of security that would never be delivered) would pass. After the GOP eviscerated itself on the issue during Bush's second term and the Democrats didn't have the nerve to try to push it through in Obama's first two years, despite their overwhelming majorities, "security first" is going to be the default position for the foreseeable future. Perry at least seems serious about securing the border and he will also face tremendous pressure from his Right to stay on the straight and narrow. So, he will certainly be an improvement over Obama and the damage he could do on his weakest issue would PROBABLY be minimal. Plus, as an extra-added bonus, Perry pulled 39% of the Hispanic vote in 2010, even when he was ramping up his border enforcement efforts. Those are numbers other Republicans should want to emulate and build on.
5) Who are we forgetting? Oh, yes, the social conservatives! No important group on the Right has been more ignored over the last few years than social conservatives. In large part, that's because the country's facing an economic slowdown and an unprecedented debt apocalypse that could leave America in ruins for generations. Under those circumstances, it's natural that fiscal issues have moved to the forefront. That being said, social issues are still part of the conservative core and we desperately need the Christian Right to turn out in 2012.
Although Rick Perry's campaign isn't centered around social issues, he's a strong social conservative who's participated in public "days of prayer," supports a federal protection of marriage amendment, signed a mandatory ultrasound bill, and prohibited funding for Planned Parenthood in his state. If you're looking for a strong social conservative who stands up for what's right without getting preachy about it, Rick Perry is a candidate you'll like.
6) He's the small government, fiscally conservative anti-Obama. Barack Obama's answer to every question is, "Pass a new law, give government more power, and spend more money." Rick Perry, on the other hand, is a ferocious advocate of small government, states’ rights, and slashing regulations. Every budget Perry has signed in Texas has been balanced, there's 6 billion dollars in his state's rainy day fund, and Standard and Poor’s actually RAISED Texas' credit rating from AA to AA+ in 2009. How does that compare to Obama's leadership since then? Additionally, Perry instituted tort reform, he passed eminent domain protections, and he's promised to kill Obamacare. If this country wants to make it through the next couple of decades without going bankrupt, that's exactly the sort of leadership we need in Washington.
There are no perfect candidates running for President and even if there were, deifying our leaders and expecting them to solve all of our problems from D.C. would be a huge mistake. That being said, if Rick Perry wins the nomination and the presidency, conservatives will at least be able to say that we have one of our own in the White House doing the best he can for the country.