Perry in the Headlights

by Kevin D. Williamson

Shannen, I concur. Anybody who does much public speaking has experienced that moment. Last Friday, I was on Red Eye, and I started off with “Two points about that: First . . .” and when I got to No. 2, I’d completely forgotten where I was going. Happens.

The difference, of course, is that neither of us is running for president. And here’s the important thing, in my view: Rick Perry is not running for president, either. Not yet. Right now, he’s running for the opportunity to be the Republican who debates and campaigns against Obama and Obama’s amen corner in the media in 2012. Perry is, in my view, the best-performing governor in the country, and probably the best-qualified of the Republican candidates — on paper. In practice, his campaign has been a mess, and a surprising mess at that. His campaign gives off the scent of ineptitude, and it had been doing so long before last night. Even given his record, it is difficult for me to imagine how he can at this point, after the campaign he has run thus far, make a case that he is the guy Republicans want to put up against Barack Obama & Co. in 2012.

There have been more unlikely comebacks in American politics, but if I were betting my own money on the outcome of the 2012 election, I would not bet on there being a President Perry.

That leaves Republicans in a hard place. There’s Mitt Romney, whom many conservatives distrust and dislike (I do not dislike him, I distrust him), and there’s a bunch of not-Romneys, none of whom seems likely to me to defeat Barack Obama in 2012. My own intuition is that the important variables in 2012 will be, in order of importance: 1. unemployment; 2. 2008 Obama voters’ buyers’ remorse; 3. the Republican candidate. And the question for Republican primary voters is: If it comes down to “win with Romney or lose with somebody else,” which do you prefer? 

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