Steve Chapman

When President George H.W. Bush lost badly in 1992, after all, it was safe to assume the country wouldn't elevate another member of the family to the White House anytime soon. No novelist would have dared to invent a winning black presidential candidate with a name like Barack Hussein Obama.

Perry's flaws are mostly the sort that other GOP candidates wish they had. His ostentatious disdain for federal interference is a tea partier's dream. His high-octane ideology makes an advantageous contrast to the suspicious moderation of Romney, Pawlenty and Huntsman.

He inspires trust on the Christian right while getting valentines from the Wall Street Journal's editorial writers. He could quickly cut off the air supply of the other conservatives in the race.

And the general election? Perry's conservatism is too strong a brew for mainstream tastes, and his cowboy swagger will evoke unwanted memories of George W. Bush. In a normal election year, those handicaps would be insuperable.

But 2012 is not looking normal. If the economy remains sluggish and unemployment high, Americans are apt to be more weary of Obama than of his immediate predecessor. Ronald Reagan's alleged extremism didn't look so scary next to the economic chaos and foreign-policy humiliations of Jimmy Carter's presidency.

Democrats (and some Republicans) thought Reagan a smiling dunce. But the simple themes he enunciated were a welcome tonic when prevailing policies seemed to be failing.

Perry has the advantage of being able to claim that his state accounts for more than 37 percent of all the jobs created since the recession officially ended, which could make a vote for him feel more pragmatic than ideological.

As he considers his prospects, Perry may recall the old joke about the hiker who didn't need to be faster than the grizzly bear -- just faster than his hiking buddy. Perry's flaws loom large, unless you compare them to anyone else's.

Steve Chapman

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

©Creators Syndicate