Monday, August 15, 2011

The GOP's Top Three Contenders

There's a front-page article at the LA Times site that identifies what it calls the GOP's "Top Tier" of candidates: Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. It's still very early and things might change radically, but as of now I agree with the article's premise. Here are my premature thoughts on them as candidates, both for the nomination and the general election.

Michelle Bachmann I think Bachmann has a shot at the nomination, but that her chances fell dramatically with the entry of Perry. On the other hand, I think Bachmann's status as a "true conservative" is rock-solid. If Perry falters, or starts to be seen in a more negative light among the GOP faithful for whatever reasons, Bachmann might surge in front of him.

As for the general election, I have my doubts that Bachmann can win. The demonization has already begun in the media, and her religious and strong social conservative views are going to be a turn-off for many independents. Unlike Perry, she can't balance that out by pointing to her record as the governor of a state with economic success. Her strength there is mainly in the form of ideas and principles, rather than many concrete actions. Like candidate Obama, she's underqualified for the presidency. There are going to be many people who don't want to risk seeing another inexperienced president flounder incompetently for four years. I think Bachmann is a dark horse at best -- at least for now.

Rick Perry. He just got in, but right now I think Perry is the favorite for the nomination. First, he's a governor. Like Romney he has the executive experience and record to run on. Second, unlike Romney, he isn't seen as a squishy Republican too close to things like Obamacare. Third, barring some sort of drastic changes before the election, the economy is the number one issue. Perry can point to actual results from his policies in Texas. I think he's acceptable to the base, certainly more so than Romney, and the perception that he has a better chance to win should give him the edge over Bachmann. But it's real early for him. There's no doubt that Democrats and the Democratic-biased media (and probably GOP competitors too) are already frantically digging for things that damage Perry. As we learn more, his position could change dramatically.

My first impression is that Perry is a strong candidate in the general election. But I see one big problem. Bush Derangement Syndrome is still strong in the U.S. Is it too early to elect another GOP governor from Texas that can be painted as Bush-like? It might be. If he gets the nomination I expect a full-on effort from Democrats to portray him as another Bush, but even worse. I can see that strategy working to keep Obama in the White House.

Mitt Romney. Romney's advantages in the nomination are his money and the possibility that the GOP establishment might decide that it's his turn. But his base support is weak. Many hardcore Republicans do not view him as very conservative. On the other hand, he's tested as a candidate. It's unlikely that any scandal or other disqualifying revelation is going to knock him out of the race. He might get it by default as the most solid, serious candidate. He might also get the nomination by the John McCain path, winning big in open primaries and gaining unstoppable momentum, especially if Bachmann, Perry and some of the lesser candidates split the hardcore GOP vote.

Of the three I think Romney is the most electable in the general election. He projects competence and leadership in contrast to Obama, and is fairly moderate and able to appeal to independents fed-up with the last four years. I don't think he's a lock to win though. Obama isn't good at much, but he is good at raising money and getting elected. Whichever GOP candidate emerges is probably in for a tough fight.


  1. Part of the question on Perry is if the media will pick up on how disliked he is in Texas. The only reason he was re-elected the past 2 elections is that the Democrats ran people who were very liberal (and had pro-gun control records).
    There are a large number of people in Texas who will either vote third party or for Obama if Perry is nominated by the Republicans.

  2. I don't think there is any doubt that every possible negative Perry has is going to show up in the media. Regardless of Perry's popularity or lack-thereof in Texas, I think Texas is a lock for the GOP. If it isn't, there's no chance of beating Obama.

  3. I hear on the news today that Perry never lost an election. We'll see...

  4. I agree with your overall assessments, though I think Perry's entry has ended Bachman's possibilities and helped Romney's for the general election. As you noted, Bachman and Perry supporters are likely to split, and it would take a real concerted effort from one of them exiting the race early to pool the votes necessary to beat Romney.

    But what's most interesting is that Perry will likely act as a lightning rod throughout the nomination process. No one is talking about Romney, and that is likely to remain the case. I think that is exactly what Romney wants, and needs, for the nomination. The more quiet things are in the Romney camp, the more likely they will slowly and steadily take key caucuses and primaries (again, assuming a firm split of religious-right voters).

  5. Bret,

    You may be right. I could definitely see it playing out that way.

  6. Good analysis. Mitt Romney has one additional issue - being Mormon - I don't see all that many non-Mormon Republican Christians able to get over that. As you pointed out in an earlier blog, many don't even consider Mormon Christian.

  7. Yeah, that will probably hurt him some if he's the nominee. I'm not sure how much though. I don't see it as a deciding factor. I think it definitely does hurt him with the GOP base, but not as much as his policies as governor of Mass. I think if he was seen as a staunch conservative, a significant number of hardcore Republicans would support him regardless of whether or not they were comfortable with his religion.

  8. Romney couldn't even beat McCain last time around. Why will he do better this time? The Tea Party arose after the last election. That represents the views of a large section of the electorate. They loathe Obamacare and Romneycare, and Romney's failure to disavow Romneycare will hurt him even more this time around.

    Perry is the new kid on the block with a great record, but a lot of enemies in Texas, including the Bushies, and the Paulians. The LSM will attempt to "Palinize" him and there is enough material out there for some of it to stick.

    Most GOP candidates will be put through the wringer by the LSM. Look how Bachmann is getting bashed on "submission".

    I still expect Palin to get into the race, but she'll wait until Perry and Romney have bloodied each other. She has four things going for her - she has been though the wringer and she's still standing, she has wide name recognition, she earned a bunch of chits in 2010, and she has a huge base of support that will spring into action the minute she announces. She also has three things against her. The LSM did inflict some damage so she needs to repair that, the GOP establishment hate her, and she needs to explain why she quit to a wider audience than her fans.

    I don't think the country is the mood for a moderate or business as usual. It blames Bush and Obama for our dire economic straits, and it wants a candidate willing and able to balance the budget. That mood favors Perry with his jobs record in Texas, and Palin, who has a record of reducing spending in Alaska.