Steve Chapman
The Republican presidential field looks less like an assemblage of candidates than a collection of fatal mistakes and irreparable flaws, with occasional embodiments of one or more of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Mitt Romney? A flip-flopper who inspired Obamacare. Tim Pawlenty? A too-bashful critic of Romneycare, with a sleepy persona. Newt Gingrich? Serial adultery and terminal hubris.

Herman Cain? A rousing speaker with a future in talk radio. Rick Santorum? Not many politicians warm up for a presidential race by losing a Senate seat in a landslide. Michele Bachmann? Only one House member has ever gone directly to the presidency (James Garfield, in 1880).

Jon Huntsman? Service in the Obama administration is no way to gratify Republican voters. Ron Paul? A libertarian in a conservative party whose 2008 race yielded a paltry handful of convention delegates.

All this explains why a 2012 race is now tempting Rick Perry, the three-term governor of Texas whose liabilities come with some assets: a record of fiscal frugality and economic growth, a flair for channeling anti-Washington sentiment, a proven fundraising capacity and an appealing biography (hardscrabble farm upbringing, Eagle Scout, Air Force pilot).

It helps that he delivers a good speech and looks like the lead in an old Western movie. Not for nothing did the late liberal columnist Molly Ivins dub him "Governor Goodhair."

As that unshakable nickname suggests, though, many people in the Lone Star State -- and not only liberals -- see Perry as a photogenic lightweight who got his office only by the luck of being first in the line of succession when Texas Gov. George W. Bush was elected president.

In 2006, he won re-election with just 39 percent of the vote in a four-way race. One opponent, musician and humorist Kinky Friedman, used a slogan that was a sly poke at Perry: "How hard can it be?" Only 9 percent of Texas Republicans say they would support him for president. He has not worn well with those who know him best.

Perry has a tendency to make people ask, "Did he really say that?" -- as when he indicated an openness to secession, and when he dismissed a TV reporter with, "Adios, mofo." There is also the implausible yarn he tells of going for a run one morning without his security detail and, when a coyote threatened his dog, drawing his pistol and blowing the varmint away.

His biggest shortcoming is that most Americans don't ache with nostalgia for the last time a former Texas Republican governor occupied the White House. That concern is accurate but not clearly disqualifying.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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