National Journal: Rick Perry Is Obama’s Worst Nightmare

I’m going to crib the heck out of this piece by Josh Kraushaar in National Journal, because it’s absolutely spot on.

Kraushaar’s basic theory is that Democrats who think Rick Perry is unelectable are marching themselves into a jackpot. Perry is the worst possible candidate for Barack Obama to have to run against. And one gets the impression that while Kraushaar won’t absolutely come out and say it, he doesn’t think Obama can beat Perry unless things change.

He builds his case well.

Last month, I laid out the reasons why I thought Texas Gov. Rick Perry was the clear Republican front-runner. I’ll take it one step further: Perry would be a very formidable nominee against President Obama, and he poses a stronger threat than most Democrats realize and many Republican strategists acknowledge.

The hits are already out. Democrats are looking at Perry’s states’ rights, anti-Washington manifesto Fed Up! as a gold mine for opposition researchers, eager to pounce on his claim that Social Security is akin to a Ponzi scheme. They think that his skepticism on climate change makes him seem extreme, even as Obama halted implementation of antismog regulations in a last-ditch attempt to help create jobs. Most view Perry’s aggressive defense of Second Amendment rights as a general-election loser; never mind that Democrats haven’t touched the gun-control issue since Al Gore’s failed 2000 presidential campaign, and for good reason. All of the conventional wisdom couldn’t be more off base.

Yep. Try to hold North Carolina, New Mexico or Colorado running on a gun-grabbing platform against Perry – Kraushaar doesn’t even mention that in doing so, Obama opens himself up to a massive counterattack on Fast And Furious, which is a lot bigger scandal than Watergate ever was. Nobody died in Watergate, and the coverup of that debacle was miniscule compared to what the Obama administration seems to be doing with Fast And Furious. It’s a slow-motion train wreck which probably doesn’t complete itself until next spring or so, just in time to take the gun issue off the table in any fashion for the president. Perry’s embrace of the 2nd Amendment will look eminently reasonable compared to Obama’s idea of giving guns to Mexican druglords so as to show how dangerous gun ownership is – which is the way a very large proportion of the public will see Fast And Furious when all the cards are on the table.

And while Perry’s between-the-eyes assessment of Social Security might give political consultants seizures, the American people know it’s unsustainable. Almost nobody under 45 thinks the program will be there when they retire. That Perry is the first American presidential candidate of any stature with the courage to suggest significant changes doesn’t make him toxic; it’s not even a liability. If Obama wants to run on Perry-wants-to-steal-your-Social-Security-check, he’s going to alienate lots of younger voters who are already disgusted with his performance, and it’s unlikely the president is going to recapture older voters who hate him with fervor for what he did to Medicare and their retirement accounts.

As for the climate change angle, try running on global warming with nine percent unemployment. Just try it. Don’t pay any attention to the rout the scientific debate on that subject is becoming, or what the situation will look like next year. Go ahead and run on Perry’s-nuts-because-he-doesn’t-believe-in-global-warming-and-wants-to-drill-for-oil-all-over-the-place. Do that and see what happens.

More from Kraushaar…

Polls show that voters care about jobs and the economy, first and foremost. Perry can point to his record as Texas governor, one of the few states with a record of job creation during the recession. Whether he’s responsible for that record is a debatable point, but politically, it is a clear winner. Second on the list is concern over government spending, and Perry’s book is a virtual treatise against excessive federal spending.

Perry will have to address his views on entitlements, but his vulnerabilities on that front pale in comparison to Obama’s vulnerabilities on the economy. Only 35 percent of senior citizens approve of the president’s job performance, according to Gallup, one of his worst-performing demographic groups. With seniors so down on the president, it’s hard to see Perry’s book quote being a game-changer.

For a case study, look at two special elections that are coming up this month, one in a solidly-Democratic New York City district and one in a rural, Republican-leaning district in Nevada.  In both elections, the Democratic candidates have lambasted the Republican nominees for supporting entitlement cuts and holding extreme views on the social safety net.  In the decidedly liberal confines of Queens and Brooklyn, the Republican candidate has actually embraced such controversial views, and even said he opposed a bill that provided benefits to victims of 9/11.

The Democrats’ attacks haven’t resonated.  Instead, dissatisfaction with Obama is so great that the Republican candidate in Nevada is poised to win in a landslide, and the Democrat is barely getting help from the national party. And in the special election race to replace former Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner in New York, polls from both sides show a close race.

Those special election races indicate that what happened in November 2010 hasn’t ended yet; in fact, things are probably getting worse for Democrats in spite of their triumphalism over the special election for that congressional seat in western New York back in the spring. In that race, they cited Medicare and Paul Ryan’s budget as the major issues in the campaign as the reason why the Democrat won, but that’s off-base. The Democrat won because there was a fraud “Tea Party” stalking horse candidate in the race who spent a ton of his own money to bash the Republican and siphon votes away, not because voters in what’s normally a Republican district are afraid of what Paul Ryan will do to Medicare.

That’s being borne out in Weiner’s district and in Nevada right now.

If the historic 2010 midterms demonstrated anything, it was a massive pushback against Obama’s big government policies—the stimulus and health care reform in particular. Obama saw his 2008 election as a mandate for a more activist government, and his policies created a resistance that is still churning today. Grassroots insurgencies don’t happen in a vacuum. But Democrats are still grasping at polls that show that the tea party is unpopular, even though the antigovernment sentiment that fueled the movement is as powerful as ever. The White House misread the tea party movement from the start, and it seems to be misreading it to this day.

Indeed. The Democrats’ screaming about the Tea Party of late is one of the most classic cases of political stupidity of recent vintage. The fact is, it’s too late to howl about the Tea Party; the Tea Party never was an organized, hierarchical entity which could be personalized and demonized Alinsky-style in the first place. It was amorphous, leaderless and loose, a movement of individuals who’d had enough with a federal government which had grown far beyond the bounds of size and scope that it was intended and which was and is ruining the country.

And what happened in the 2010 elections is that the Tea Party overwhelmed the GOP Establishment and took over the Republican Party. Sure, there are other factions within the GOP, but nobody in the party (and not that many independents, either) disagrees that the federal government is too big, too stupid and too wasteful for the country to succeed. That’s victory.

Look who the head of the RNC is: Reince Preibus. He’s not exactly FreedomWorks, but watch what comes out of his mouth and there’s no difference between that and what Matt Kibbe or Dick Armey say. And Preibus was the guy who engineered the GOP’s takeover in Wisconsin before he got his current job; look at what Wisconsin Republicans are doing and try to find daylight between that and what the Tea Party wanted to see.

Demonize the Tea Party all you want if you’re Obama, or Maxine Waters, or Jimmy Hoffa’s kid. There is no Tea Party anymore; what there is now is the Republican Party. Attacking the Tea Party is tilting at windmills.

On a local basis I can offer some evidence of this. The New Orleans-based site BayouBuzz.com ran a piece by a guy named Sid Arroyo yesterday which essentially slandered the Tea Party as racists and homophobes on the basis that “Tea Party leaders” Judson Phillips and Ricky Swier had said unfriendly things about blacks and gays. Arroyo calls himself a Republican, but what he really is is a crank. And in a Facebook defense of his piece, he referenced Jim DeMint and the Koch Brothers and assailed the racist and homophobic “dogma” of the Tea Party.

Of course, Phillips and Swier stopped being relevant – if they ever were – over a year ago. Phillips all but disappeared from the scene after the Tea Party convention he staged in Nashville on a for-profit basis; that was rejected by most members of the movement as a self-promotion scheme. Swier has even less stroke.

The vast majority of what is called Tea Party philosophy is nothing more than constitutional conservatism. It has nothing to do with race, nothing to do with sex, and nothing to do with social policy at all. That’s why the two black Republican members of the House of Representatives, Tim Scott and Allen West, both associated with the Tea Party, make such a mockery of the slanders of the movement Democrats and their useful idiots like Arroyo have been busy perpetrating.

If I call myself the Tea Party and you demonize me, I’ll simply drop the Tea Party label and call myself a constitutional conservative. You can try to call me a racist if you want, but it’s hard to say that if I want less taxes, more freedom and a smaller government that makes me the Klan.

One thing about fighting straw men is that you expend energy that could be spent fighting real battles. That’s what Kraushaar sees here.

Just look at the president’s decision last Friday to suspend antismog standards, something that goes against the environmental record his administration has proudly stood for. This was a profound concession: Obama is either conceding that excessive regulation can hamper economic growth, or he’s acknowledging the political pitfalls of an activist government. And if the political pendulum has swung so much to the right that even Obama is cutting back environmental protection for the hope of economic growth, it suggests that Perry’s antigovernment views aren’t limited to cranky conservatives.

Perry hasn’t even begun laying out the economic case against Obama, which he will no doubt do. And he has a very convincing story to tell – about the offshore drilling moratorium/permitorium, about what the EPA did to Texas’ petrochemical industry over a petty turf battle over emissions regulation, about drilling restrictions in West Texas over a three-inch lizard, about the NLRB in South Carolina, the Keystone XL pipeline, and on and on and on. You can’t sell regulatory tyranny to the American people; that was one of the elements of the Reagan Revolution. And attempting to make Perry extreme because he wants to deregulate at the federal level when he’s having a great deal more economic success in Texas than you are in DC only makes you look more like the problem and him the solution.

The other major asset that Perry brings to the table in a general election is immigration. The Republican nominee’s ability to connect with Hispanic voters, concentrated in battleground states like Nevada, Colorado, and Florida, is critical to winning the White House in 2012 and beyond. Perry brings a track record of Hispanic outreach in Texas, and he carried 38 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2010 against Democrat Bill White, in line with George W. Bush’s performance as governor.

More notably, while campaigning to win the conservative Republican base, he has carefully avoided the strident anti-immigration rhetoric that often characterizes the party’s loudest voices. He came out against a border fence—virtual heresy among elements of the right—and didn’t back down from his support of allowing illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition in his state. Perry’s team is playing long ball, and it recognizes the importance of the Hispanic vote and his unique ability to win enough of them over.

Pair Perry on the presidential ticket with an up-and-coming Hispanic running mate such as Sen.Marco Rubio of Florida or New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, and the Hispanic vote is squarely in play. Gallup found Obama’s approval among Hispanics down to 44 percent. If Obama can’t win over a clear majority of Hispanics, ball game’s over.

Newt Gingrich’s campaign is finished, but he’s to be commended for saying, in the first televised debate, that Republicans shouldn’t be buffaloed into a false choice between amnesty for all illegal aliens and deporting everybody. Perry is a guy who personifies a middle road by which we take steps to secure the border and sharply rein in social services to illegals, but treat the ones who want to live as productive members of society (whether citizens or no) as such. Add Rubio to the ticket, and as Kraushaar notes this thing gets very ugly for Obama – particularly if the GOP narrative hits the truth that all Obama really cares about is making bloc Democrat voters out of every illegal alien in America. That fact isn’t just offensive to white people; it’s offensive to a whole lot of Hispanic voters as well.

With his book, Perry opponents believe they have a gold mine of opposition research, but it hardly raises an eyebrow compared to past presidential nominees.  Jimmy Carter was eager to face Ronald Reagan, who recorded commentaries arguing that Medicare would lead America down a path to socialism.  Bill Clinton avoided military service, admitted to smoking pot (without inhaling), and had to deal with rumors of extramarital affairs during the 1992 campaign.  Both won in landslides against presidents facing rough economic times.

With an economy this weak, and with little expectations of it improving, the Democrats would need a scorched-earth culture war campaign painting Perry as an extremist to prevent his capturing the White House, and even that might not be enough. To quote Democratic strategist James Carville: “It’s the economy, stupid.” If the economy doesn’t show signs of improving pronto, Democrats could be staring down the face of President Perry in 2013.

Kraushaar is right to hint at the scorched-earth culture war. It’s not hard to see that’s precisely what’s coming; otherwise you’d never see Obama and Debbie Wasserman Schultz glossing over Kid Hoffa’s “son of a bitches” rant. This will be the ugliest, nastiest presidential campaign in history. But Perry comes from Texas, where the history of hard-nosed politics goes all the way back to the Alamo. You’re not going to scare him away with attack ads, ugly statements and loony hecklers; all you’ll do is make him look reasonable and yourself more shrill.

Because at the end of the day, Perry is a lot closer to the center of American politics than Obama is. And while that’s probably true of Mitt Romney as well, Perry is also closer to the center of Republican politics. And with a poor-performing, far-Left Democrat president, those two centers are rapidly converging.

And that, even more than Perry, is what keeps the Obama camp awake at night.

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