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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

PALIN IN COWBOY BOOTS?

September is quickly winding down and not surprisingly nothing has been heard from the ex-Alaskan governess about jumping into the Republican presidential nomination race.  This is not surprising because she has never taken the usual organizational steps required for raising money and operating a multi-state campaign.  It is also not surprising because she has never followed the advice of Republican strategists since her defeat as McCain's tag-a-long in the 2008 presidential campaign which was to go home and attempt to achieve some breadth and depth in the basic economics, national politics and international relations areas.  Instead she chose the paid celebrity route with substance free books about herself, highly paid speaking engagements, a Fox News "contributor" contract, and a self-promoting biographical movie.  Of course she could still "jump", or fall, into the race just to keep her name in the news but it seems unlikely given the rise, fall, and continued presence of her evangelical and ideological twin, Michele Bachmann. 

Still, in a sense she might be already in the contest, at least in spirit, and not in the form of the Representative from Minnesota.  The current front runner in the polls is Rick Perry who is appearing more and more to be Palin in cowboy boots.  In a few short weeks he has managed to change his image from a tough talking, get things done, jobs creator to a substance challenged Palin-like, anti-government cheerleader.

Consider the other image making (or breaking) similarities.  Both are from states with a vigorous "frontier" image and culture of independence.  Both seek to bolster this image with strong firearms advocacy; she shoots wolves from helicopters; he shoots coyotes from jogging shorts.  Both celebrate the rejection of the last two hundred years of biological and geological science by affirming their belief in creationism and their desire for God to take over the tough decisions and fix the economy.  Both display a disdain for intellectual breadth and academic success.  She took five years at four different colleges to earn a degree in sports journalism.  He brags about being "in the top ten of his high school graduating class of thirteen” and flunking college chemistry in a failed attempt to become a veterinarian; instead settling for a degree in animal husbandry.  Despite a high volume of political rhetoric, neither have offered much in the way of policy preferences, instead just contributing to the anti-Washington, anti-Obama windstorm which seems to appeal to large conservative crowds. This stance of course makes both favorites in the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. 

There are important differences in the two, however, to those Republicans who can look past the nomination battle to the general election and are hopeful of replacing Obama in 2012 the similarities can be scary. 

Perry has the advantage of being a politically successful governor of the second biggest state (behind Alaska but with thirty-six times its population).  He has held that position for over ten years and never lost an election.  She was elected with less than a majority vote in a multi-party election and resigned after two years for the money and bright lights of the lower forty-eight states.  He served on active duty as an Air Force pilot and presumably knows something about the military.  She spent three days visiting troops in Kuwait and Iraq.

It is becoming clear that many in the Republican establishment (big donors, members of Congress, state officials) have serious doubts that Perry could win the general election although he might well win the nomination on the strength of his Tea Party and evangelical support.  Just as “the stars were aligned” to elect a remarkably unqualified and unprepared Democrat in 2008, the political/economic environment seems to be creating a strong possibility to unseat him.  This might be the Republican party’s election to lose and the critical constituency which the Republican candidate must win back from Obama are Independents who play no role in the selection of the nominee.  (Some primaries are “open” and allow anyone to vote in them but most are not).

So far Perry has done little to attract these voters.  His rash statements about Social Security, constant references to his fundamentalist religious views, and abortion, were/are unnecessary and divisive.  Perry still has plenty of time to change his image but so far has shown little inclination to abandon his harsh tone and anti- everything Washington views.  With the economy being the central election issue, a few credible policy ideas along with an upbeat vision of the nation’s future under his leadership would help him immensely with voters who are disillusioned  with Obama but wary of ideological rigidity and partisan gridlock. 

If Perry is to be successful in convincing general election voters that he has better ideas and leadership skills than Mitt Romney and Obama,  he has to abandon the Palin like superficiality and attract voters in the swing states of the mid-west.   Iowa, Texas and the South will not be enough.  Of course the whole problem disappears if Mitt Romney can convince primary voters that he can defeat Obama and Perry can’t, or simply that his more moderate views and business success make him better qualified for the office.

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