One year from today, the Republican National Convention will nominate the party’s 2012 candidate for president. With Texas governor Rick Perry now in the race, the field is almost complete – almost but very likely not quite.
With President Obama’s disapproval ratings having hit a remarkable high of 55 percent in Gallup daily tracking results released over the weekend, you would think the GOP nominee would be a November shoo-in.
Add to current polls one of those correlations that public opinion experts love to make. The University of Michigan puts out a Consumer Sentiment Index. It is one of the longest running tabulations in survey research, going back to the 1940s. The higher the score, the more optimistic Americans are – and the more optimistic Americans are, the more likely the incumbent president will be reelected. So when incumbents have won, the score has averaged 95.9. When they have lost, it has averaged 74.4. This month the score hit 54.9.
And yet, remarkably, in the last week Mr. Obama pulled ahead in the ongoing generic Republican candidate v. himself matchups. And in Real Clear Politics head to head matchups, he now beats every GOP candidate, besting some, like former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, by double digits.
With much of the political world, I assume that the president will command a campaign fund of a billion dollars. I also assume the independent expenditures supporting him — fed by the fortunes of trial lawyers, Big Labor, and George Soros — will add another billion. Some in Washington believe that the GOP and its supporters will be lucky to raise half that amount.
So where do the Republican candidates stand among themselves today?
Yes, according to Real Clear Politics tracking of all polls, Rick Perry has pulled ahead of the field. He has cut into the support of Romney, Bachman, and the as-yet-unannounced Palin. His quick rise has confirmed what everyone had been feeling for months. The pre-Perry GOP field reminded you of early signs of the flu; you didn’t know what was bothering you, but you didn’t feel quite right.
And yet as recently as over the weekend, a columnist who should be enthusiastic about the Texas governor, Jonah Goldberg (see: http://tinyurl.com/3j6r57w) delivered the kind of tepid assessment that signals problems in a candidacy. “Perry’s not a bad speaker,” he sighed in National Review Online, adding with a shrug, “I’m trying to keep an open mind.” Goldberg fears that Perry will be no more adept at explaining his positions to the American people than was his separated-at-birth (twin in over-the-top-with-Texas-mannerisms) brother, George W. Bush.
Goldberg’s views about W are not mine, but I know what he means. I spoke to a national conservative meeting held in Dallas a few months ago. In the course of the visit, I spent a morning with a senior GOP office holder, a Perry partisan. I heard a lot about Texas government and Texas politics and came away convinced that Perry was a first class political executive who deserved serious credit for his state’s economic vitality. But then I went to lunch and heard Perry speak.
Texans cherish a particular view of themselves and their state. It has a lot to do with cowboys and Rangers and the glories and hardships of the frontier, the cattle drive, the oil patch, and Texas’ prior nationhood. Texans don’t so much see their state as having been admitted to the United States all those decades ago as having allowed the United States to affiliate with Texas. Some states and even parts of states (think New York City or Boston) strut their own very distinct persona. But if you were to rank them, Texas would occupy the top bracket all by itself. And, from what I saw when the governor addressed that national group in Dallas, and as the nation is now seeing, Rick Perry would have the top bracket for more-Texan-than-Texas archetype all to himself.
Doubts are in the air about whether the Perry strut will sell in the rest of the country — which is why so many believe there will be more entrants to the field before long. Palin is said to be readying a run, to be announced after Labor Day. And despite denials, reports are circulating in Washington that New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s forces have been shopping for national campaign consulting talent.
One way or the other, there is a feeling everywhere you turn that the party has a duty to field the best imaginable team this coming year. Which is why late entrants remain welcome.