Careful what you wish for…

Politico points out today how the Obama 2012 machine has been thrilled with Rick Perry’s attacks on Mitt Romney, occasionally piling on to wound the erstwhile Massachusetts governor.  The reasoning goes that Perry (or anyone else from the GOP field) would be easier for the President to beat in the general election.

That may sound familiar.  In 2008, with their own nomination pretty much decided, some Republicans went to the polls in late primary states intending to affect the Democratic ballot.  In Texas, a vote for then-candidate Obama was a way to put the final nail in the coffin for the Clinton Era.  In Virginia, some Republicans insisted on voting for Obama to encourage the Democrats to nominate an inexperienced, first-term Senator as their nominee.

Whether as part of an “Anybody But Hillary” movement or whether they believed that Obama was the weaker candidate, would those Republicans vote the same way if they could go for a spin in Doc Brown’s DeLorean?   If they had a hot tub time machine, do you think the 2007 Patriots would have rooted a bit harder for the talented-on-paper Packers or the Cowboys to come out of the NFC for Superbowl 42?

Similarly, Team Obama may think Rick Perry, with his low poll numbers and early campaign missteps, would be a more attractive opponent in November 2012.  It certainly looks like that match up would favor the President prohibitively – and the President looks good up against any of the other GOP hopefuls, too.  It isn’t even November of 2011 yet, though – and a year is a long time.

Too Conservative to Win?

Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry have tag teamed to dominate the news cycles in recent days.  And as the opinionatti of the punditocracy (or whatever fun little nicknames you prefer) struggle to wrap their heads around what a straw poll victory and a late entry into the Presidential sweepstakes mean, they keep asking an intriguing question: Are these candidates too conservative to win a general election matchup against President Barack Obama?

This is especially true of the coverage of Bachmann; but taken together the Minnesota Congresswoman and the Texas Governor really display why this question is, to use the technical terms, BS.

No serious analyst of the race really believes Michele Bachmann has a snowball’s chance in the current residence  of Iowa native John Wayne Gacy.  If she wins the Republican nomination, she will most likely lose badly to the incumbent – maybe not Mondale vs. Reagan bad, but probably Dole vs. Clinton bad.  Bachmann will simply not resonate with a broad audience of American voters.

If Bachmann loses, it will not be for her views but for her tendency for gaffery.  Aside from confusing 20th century alpha male John Wayne with creepy clown artist/serial killer Gacy, Bachmann celebrated the anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death by wishing The King a happy birthday.  For many political viewers, Bachmann’s introduction to the national stage came during a horribly flubbed “tea party response” to the State of the Union address.

The trend line is evident: under the glare of the national spotlight, Bachmann is unpolished, rough, and prone to mistakes.  She is, it seems, an incompetent campaigner.  Audiences who already agree with her message will overlook that, but audiences who need convincing will not.  Those folks will become more accepting of the other, seemingly competent voices who call her extreme.

Then comes the media storyline: Conservative goes down in flames to Mainstream Candidate.

You saw plenty of it in 2010, when tea partiers were blamed for costing Republicans gains in the US Senate. Primary victories by  Sharron Angle in Nevada, Joe Miller in Alaska, and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware were frequently cited as an example of primaries run amok.

All three lost, of course.  Angle and Miller had run-ins with the media that suggested the pressures of the campaign were getting to them; O’Donnell’s campaign was only notable for its ill-advised “I am not a witch” ad.  Meanwhile, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul won their Senate races.  Arch-conservative Ronald Reagan was President; Moderates Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, and Bob Dole were a half-termer, a one-termer and a no-termer, respectively.

A candidate has to appeal to voters, regardless of where they sit on the political spectrum.  Barack Obama may have been the most ideologically-driven to assume the Presidency since Lyndon Johnson; he was also likeable and projected strength.

As he begins his Presidential campaign, Rick Perry will face the same question as Bachmann: Is he “too conservative to win”?  And whether the eventual Republican nominee is Perry, Bachmann, or even Mitt Romney, the Obama campaign will surely try to stick the “right-wing extremist” label squarely on their metaphorical forehead.

Candidates with good, disciplined messages don’t let those labels stick.

Cross posted at PunditLeague.us.

Savior du Jour

The word on the street is that Rick Perry is going to save the Republican Party.

With a primary field that doesn’t seem to satisfy the electorate and/or the media covering the race, the GOP is primed for Perry to ride in on a white horse and seize the nomination.  The Texan inherits his position from a long line of GOP saviors, joining the ranks of Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, and Fred Thompson.  Barbour and Daniels opted out of the 2012 race.  Despite plenty of anticipation for a consensus conservative to jump in and provide Republicans a choice who wasn’t John McCain in 2008, Thompson proved to be what was feared: an entirely unserious candidate.

Why would Rick Perry be any less disappointing?

Like Thompson, Perry could be underestimating the existing primary field – a field which has been doing plenty of behind-the-scenes work to build campaign organizations.  Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, and Newt Gingrich have been unofficially running their 2012 campaigns since 2008.  Like Barbour and Daniels, he could simply be the empty suit of the week – a fresh face many party leaders hope will have enough appeal to unite various factions of the Republican party and win critical middle-of-the-road votes to make 2012 closer.

Perry’s deliberations suggest he understands just what he would be getting into if he throws his hat into the ring – and that, like fellow governors Daniels and Barbour, he would rather not declare his candidacy unless he’s prepared to do what it takes to go all the way.  If that is the case, then Perry could be formidable in the primary, even with the ground he has to make up.  Still, there are plenty of areas where Perry is behind, such as establishing field offices, raising money, and building other elements of a successful campaign.

The problem isn’t with Perry or his nascent campaign but with the “savior mentality.”  It creates expectations which are very difficult to live up to – and with expectations so important during primaries, Perry and his campaign would be wise to keep that mentality in check.