Rick Perry has pole-vaulted over Willard Mitt Romney in the race to become the top Republican to face President Obama on Election Day 2012. Texas’s governor beat Massachusetts’s former governor 29 percent to 17 percent, Gallup reported Wednesday, in the second national survey to find Perry leading by double digits among Republicans. Perry deserves this distinction. While he lacks the pro-market purity of Milton Friedman, Perry’s record should satisfy limited-government conservatives far more than Romney’s.
• As “America’s jobs governor,” Perry is a one-man antidote to Obama’s venomous policies, which have held unemployment above 9 percent for 25 of the last 27 months. Across all 50 states, between June 2009 and June 2011, the Dallas Federal Reserve calculates that 49.9 percent of America’s net new jobs arose in Texas. July was its eleventh straight month of payroll expansion, with 29,300 Texans finding work. Nearly eleven years into Perry’s governorship, Texas inarguably is No. 1 in job growth.
During Romney’s single four-year term, however, the U.S. Labor Department ranked Massachusetts No. 47 in job growth. Employment increased just 0.9 percent between January 2003 and January 2007. At that time, U.S. job growth was roughly 5 percent, reports WSJ.com’s Brett Arends. Romney did keep Massachusetts ahead of Ohio and Michigan — two Rust Belt job sieves — and Louisiana, crushed by Katrina.
• The libertarian Cato Institute’s Report Card on America’s Governors gives Perry straight Bs and Romney consistent Cs.
Cato praised Perry for introducing “a zero-based budget to force the state agencies to justify their continued existence and funding levels” and noted that “he has presided over moderate increases in the Texas general fund budget.” Cato applauded Perry’s “substantial achievement”: a $6 billion property tax cut in 2004 — including a first-year, $1.5 billion net tax reduction. However, Cato criticized Perry for partially offsetting this tax relief with a $1-per-pack cigarette tax hike and a gross receipts tax on business.
Cato observed that Romney’s “first budget, presented under the cloud of a $2 billion deficit, balanced the budget with some spending cuts, but a $500 million increase in various fees was the largest component of the budget fix.” Cato also saw that Romney “proposed modest increases to the budget and line-item vetoed millions of dollars each year, only to have most of those vetoes overridden.” In October 2006, Cato’s Stephen Slivinski predicted Romney’s current migraine: “If you consider the massive costs to taxpayers that his universal health care plan will inflict once he’s left office, Romney’s tenure is clearly not a triumph of small-government activism.”
• On health care, the free-market Club for Growth (where I twice have spoken) lauds Perry for expanding managed care within Medicaid. Among other recent modernizations, a CFG White Paper on Perry explains, “this bill could save Texas nearly $468 million over two years.” After Perry’s extensive lawsuit reforms, “the number of insurance companies offering medical malpractice insurance soared 650 percent,” along with a massive influx of doctors eager to perform diagnoses rather than depositions.
CFG credits Romney for requiring Medicaid patients to co-pay for some treatments and increasing new state workers’ health contributions from 15 percent to 25. But CFG also describes Romneycare as “one lab experiment that has completely failed.” Romneycare wields an individual mandate. Also, government-funded medicine has zoomed from $133 million in Fiscal Year 2007 to some $880 million in FY2010 — despite Romney’s promise that “the costs of health care will be reduced.”
Unlike Perry, who can slam the president on Obamacare to his face, Romney cannot do so without inviting an immediate and overwhelming smackdown from Obama. Imagine Romney in a fall 2012 debate against Obama. After criticizing the president’s signature accomplishment, Obama might say, “Mitt, considering what you did as governor, it’s strange to hear you speak so poorly about the health-reform plan that I signed. After all, the Wall Street Journal called Romneycare ‘the dress rehearsal for Obamacare.’” That line alone could do to Romney what Ronald Reagan did to 1984’s Democratic nominee, Walter Mondale, when he said in an autumn debate: “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
• While CFG chides Perry for “well-intentioned, but misguided state-funded subsidy programs to attract corporations to Texas,” it praises him for opposing the ethanol program, possibly Washington’s grubbiest corporate-welfare scheme.
Romney, in turn, boldly told Iowa voters on May 27: “I support the subsidy of ethanol.”
• Perry describes so-called “global warming” as an unproven “scientific theory” and believes that “there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data” on this issue.
“It is quite likely that Perry would seek to move the country in a much more pro-growth direction,” the Club for Growth concludes. “Almost any movement in the direction of the Texas approach would be welcomed.”
“We also think that Romney is somewhat of a technocrat,” CFG summarizes. “He has developed an unshakeable reputation as a flip-flopper. He has changed his position on several economic issues, including taxes, education, political free speech, and climate change. And yet the one issue that he doesn’t flip on — Romneycare — is the one that is causing him the most problems with conservative voters.”
Conservatives hungry for free — or at least freer — markets are stampeding toward Rick Perry. True, the cowboy-boot-wearing governor recalls Pres. G. W. Bush in style. Unfortunately, Willard Mitt Romney reflects him in substance.
— Deroy Murdock is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.