Although no primary election votes have yet been cast, it has become clear that the race for the Republican presidential nomination will be a two person contest: 1) Mitt Romney, the candidate of the center- right Republicans; and 2) Michele Bachmann, the choice of the right-of-center GOP rank-and-file, including Tea Party supporters and social conservatives.
The GOP race for the White House will become a three person contest, however, if Rick Perry decides to seek the presidency. It is unclear which candidate will be the more severely and directly impacted by a Perry candidacy, Romney or Bachmann.
The most powerful case for Perry is his remarkable success at job creation as governor of Texas. In a campaign where job creation is by far the leading issue, it gives him a significant message advantage over both Romney, whose job creation record as governor of Massachusetts was not particularly impressive, and Bachmann, who has no governmental executive experience.
Against Barack Obama, the Perry job creation message is even more compelling. Obama is now in the third year of his presidency, still blaming his predecessor, George W. Bush for his current failures at job creation and economic revival. In a presidential debate, Perry, George W. Bush’s successor as governor of Texas, can say, “Unlike Barack Obama, I succeeded in creating jobs and reviving the economy I inherited from George W. Bush.”
The question remains, however: Will Rick Perry run? In order to seek the presidency, one needs more than just a compelling message. A candidate must have ample financing, the ability to raise even more money, and an effective organization. In this regard, it is getting late in the game for Rick Perry. To have a viable 2012 candidacy, he will have to announce by August 15 – at the latest.
Thus far, Rick Perry can best be described as a Mitch Daniels in reverse. According to most reports, Daniels, the governor of Indiana, really wanted to run for the presidency, but his wife, Cheri was opposed to the idea. Until recently, Perry appeared reluctant to run, but his wife, Anita is said to be encouraging him to do so.
Yet perhaps the most significant difference between Mitch Daniels and Rick Perry is in regard to the “Bush network”. The Bush network basically consists of key governmental and political players from either the presidential administration of Bush 41 (George Herbert Walker Bush) or Bush 43 (George W. Bush). Had Mitch Daniels run for the presidency, he would have been the favorite candidate of the great majority of the members of the Bush network. By contrast, Rick Perry has a poor, even in some cases adversarial relationship with key Bush network players.
At this point, a word is in order about the Bush network. It is one of the most enduring forces in the modern history of the national Republican Party. Contrast it with the “Reagan network”. Despite the positive impact of the Reagan administration on the course of American and world history, the Reagan network had ceased to be an effective force within two years after he left office. By contrast, the Bush network appears likely to remain as the most influential GOP center-right group for the next decade at the very least.
In order to win the nomination, Perry must either make peace with the Bush network or be willing to do battle with it on a national stage. A hostile Bush network could severely damage both Perry’s fundraising prospects and his chances of attracting center-right GOP primary voters. There were rumors this week that Perry was attempting to meet with Karl Rove in order to put an end to any remaining hostilities. This is certainly a wise move.
If Perry does not at the very least establish a détente with the Bush network, will he still run? I really can’t answer this question, because it involves psychological, rather than political, analysis of Rick Perry. I am a political strategist, and my psychological credentials are non-existent. One can only guess at the extent of Perry’s motivation and willingness to take on both the Bush network and the Obama reelection campaign on unfamiliar national political turf in the same year.
I do not subscribe to the conventional wisdom that a Perry candidacy will hurt Bachmann more than Romney. Among Bachmann’s current Tea Party supporters, Perry is suspect because of his refusal to support Arizona’s tough anti-illegal immigration policy. As long as the center-right Republicans do not view him as an extremist, Perry has the potential to garner a larger share of that sector of the party, which Romney is currently taking for granted.
If Perry runs, can he win the GOP presidential nomination? Romney remains the favorite, because of his fundraising advantage and the size of the center-right constituency. Yet Bachmann has been surging – in the polls, she is now ahead of Romney in Iowa among likely caucus participants, and she is gaining ground rapidly on Mitt in New Hampshire. If Bachmann wins both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, she becomes the GOP presidential frontrunner as the campaign moves towards a showdown in Florida, the Sunshine State.
In short, while Romney is currently the front runner, he has thus far failed to inspire and ignite the passions of GOP primary voters. This provides an opportunity for Perry to supplant Romney as the candidate of the center-right – as long as he achieves détente with the Bush network. Perry then would not need to capture the lion’s share of right-of-center Republicans in order to become the front-runner.
The decision of Rick Perry whether to seek the presidency, at the very least, will have a major impact as to which candidate does emerge with the nomination. Stay tuned.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and eight federally recognized Indian nations. Under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, he served as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. He currently serves on the political science faculty of Monmouth University.