Two new polls on Wednesday put Texas Gov. Rick Perry comfortably in the lead for the GOP presidential nomination among Republican voters. His margin over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the former front runner, was a cushy 12 or 13 percentage points.
This has got to worry Gov. Romney’s advisers, who were counting on the “inevitability” strategy, much like Sen. Hillary Clinton pursued in her unsuccessful 2008 Democratic presidential campaign.
Gov. Perry gets overwhelmingly favorable ratings from Republican voters, and he has a natural message of “jobs, jobs, jobs,” based on Texas’s record of growing employment while he served as governor. That’s particularly appealing when unemployment is over 9% and President Obama has only a 26% approval rating for his handling of the economy.
But the GOP establishment is clearly worried. Karl Rove, The Wall Street Journal editorial page, and others are wringing their hands about whether Gov. Perry has broader appeal. GOP strategist Mike Murphy said on Meet the Press recently that Perry would be a “weak” general election candidate.
Why? Partly because the governor has taken some extreme stands on issues that could scare off independents:
- He said Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke would be “almost treasonous” if he tried another round of quantitative easing before the election.
- He wouldn’t say whether President Obama loves America and implied the military didn’t respect him as commander in chief.
- He said that scientists were “questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change” and that some scientists “have manipulated data” to get research grants.
- He said, incorrectly, that Texas public schools “teach creationism and evolution” and told a voter’s child that evolution was just “a theory.”
- He called Social Security a “failure” and a “Ponzi scheme” and said both it and Medicare may be unconstitutional.
- He mused, maybe half in jest, about Texas seceding from the union “if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people.”
- He wants to repeal the 17th amendment to the Constitution, which calls for the direct election of US senators.
- He wants to abolish lifetime tenure for federal judges and allow Congress to overrule Supreme Court decisions with a two-thirds majority.
- He believes the constitution should define marriage as being between a man and a woman in all 50 states and says abortion should be illegal everywhere.
This is quite a record—and note that every fact has been linked and verified. It reflects the most extreme views of both the Tea Party and the theocratic Christian right, who appear to be his most fervent supporters.
So, even if we accept that he’s the greatest job creator in human history (which is debatable), I doubt independents will be comfortable with such a hard-right candidate—unless the economy really tanks. Even George W. Bush ran as a “compassionate conservative” who worked well with Democrats.
No wonder big Republican donors are begging New Jersey governor Chris Christie to get into the race.