Two things happened over the weekend that realigned the race for the Republican presidential nomination as we had suggested it might shape up: tea party darling Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota won the GOP straw poll in Ames, Iowa, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, borrowing a campaign slogan from Jerry Brown, threw his hair into the ring.
The amount of media attention paid to the Ames straw poll was truly absurd. It predicts neither who will win the Iowa caucuses, the Republican nomination nor the presidency. Bachmann pulled 4,823 votes (29%), barely edging out Texas Rep. Ron (Fort Knox) Paul, who drew 4,671 votes (28%). The grand total –16,836 votes (paid for at $30/each) – was 2,620 fewer votes than eMeg Whitman took in losing Yolo County last year in her extravagant-but-fruitless campaign for California governor.
Nevertheless, by coming out ahead, Bachmann stays alive, which is a blessing to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the front-runner. As long as she is in the race, Perry, despite his bible-thumping economic conservatism and formidable fund-raising skills, will have a harder time locking up the right wing of the party. Perry’s first task – most likely — will be to try to crush Bachmann like a bug, without getting any visible blood on his hands.
“I’ll work every day to make Washington DC as inconsequential in your life as I can,” Perry said on Saturday, when he jumped into the presidential race. Hmm. The federal government, which manages Social Security and Medicare, defense policy and environmental protection. Inconsequential? Radical, but not so surprising.
“Perry is a little bit ‘out there,’ even in a Republican context,” Hendrick Hertzberg, wrote recently in the New Yorker.
He loves the Constitution, needless to say, but he wants to repeal the Sixteenth Amendment. That is, he wants to outlaw the Federal income tax—a step which, given that he also wants to eliminate the capital-gains tax, the corporate-income tax, and the inheritance tax, would put Uncle Sam in a bit of a hole. He also wants to repeal the Seventeenth Amendment. That is, he wants to take the power to elect senators away from the people and give it to back to state legislators. He thinks Texas has a right to secede from the Union and maybe ought to do just that if Washington keeps oppressing patriotic Americans with things like health care. He wants to let states “opt out” of Social Security.
And, as John Heilemann wrote in New York Magazine:
The natural space for Perry is in the ultra-right, anti-Establishment bracket in the contest, where the top seed, after last week’s debate, is likely to be occupied by Michele Bachmann. This year, Perry enacted what he deemed “emergency legislation” requiring any woman seeking an abortion to have a sonogram first, and her doctor to tell her “the size of her fetus’ limbs and organs, even if she does not want to know.” He was a strong supporter of the Texas anti-sodomy law that was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2003. His devotion to guns is such that back home he enjoys packing “a Ruger .380 with laser sights and loaded with hollow-point bullets,” as he has boasted. And then, of course, there was the suggestion that made him a tea-party hero: that if Washington potentates continued to “thumb their nose at the American people,” Texas might have no choice but to secede from the Union.
For some, here in California, like former Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, all this is unimportant. All that really matters is Texas’s record on jobs – which they attribute to Perry – of creating what they say is “40% of the net new jobs in America in the last two years.”
It’s a record that has been and will be vigorously challenged – by Barack Obama and many others, including the Wall Street Journal, where Charles Dameron explored Perry’s “crony capitalism”that involves Texas investing nearly $200 million in companies headed by Perry’s supporters, contributors and pals.
Here’s material that’s typical from folks who’ve looked into Perry’s record:
Perry argues: Since June of 2009, Texas is responsible for more than 40 percent of all of the new jobs created in America. Now think about that. We’re home to less than 10 percent of the population in America, but forty percent of all the new jobs were created in that state.
Yet in its ongoing report, Texas on the Brink: A Report from the Texas Legislative Study Group On the State of Our State, members of the Texas House of Representatives provided these employment-related statistics from their state (where 50th is the lowest and 1st is the highest):
— Average Hourly Earnings of Production Workers on Manufacturing Payrolls – 38th
— Government Employee Wages and Salaries – 24th
— Percent of Workforce that are Members of a Union – 41st
–– Workers’ Compensation Coverage – 50th
Make no mistake. Rick Perry is a terrific campaigner. He fires up conservative audiences, he’s glib and well-spoken on the stump, he’s handsome and well-dressed and he’s a terrific fund-raiser. Perry may be seeking to turn America into a theocratic oligarchy, but if he and Mitt Romney are the only two candidates in the race by next June and the contest comes to California, there’s every chance Perry could win the California primary.
“We may have issues that separate us, but bringing those diverse groups together and making sure we have a candidate who can beat Obama in November is the most important thing we can do,” he told Republicans in Waterloo, Iowa, on Sunday — an implicit swipe at Bachmann. “And it’s got to be someone that understands, that knows how, who has had job creation experience in their background.”
Paul Begala, who knew Perry when he first came to Austin as a state rep, reports that his nickname among legislative staffers was “Crotch,” because he wore his jeans just a little too tight. We like Begala’s line: “Rick Perry would be a good candidate if you thought George Bush was just a little too cerebral for you.”
But if Michele Bachmann is still in the race come June, she and Perry will wind up in a devilish battle for the tea party/caveman wing of the California GOP, leaving Romney the traditional conservative and moderate Republicans. Maybe California will matter after all.
P.S. For a first look at how Perry will most likely bury Bachmann, check out Politico’s Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin’s report from Waterloo.
Note to the California GOP: Now’s a good time to press Romney and Perry to show up in LA for your convention in September.
This just in (Monday 1:45 pm) — a similar snap of GRP munching a corndog: