The clock is ticking on Rick Perry.
Indeed, Perry is the candidate Republicans and the activists of the Tea Party Express stripe probably deserve.
He is brash, unapologetic, unreflective, and ignorant. He is a political chameleon who says anything. Then again, should we have expected anything else from someone who has never lost an election by running as both a Democrat and a Republican?
When Perry is on his talking points and repeating Republican boilerplate rhetoric he is clearly more comfortable. But it’s getting easier to notice that Perry struggles whenever he has to resort to any specific data. He finished poorly at last week’s Reagan Library debate when he was asked to explain why he doesn’t subscribe to the theory of man-made global warming. He wasn’t necessarily wrong but he clearly hadn’t thought about the issue beyond the talking point. All that mattered was that he said what he knows the base wants to hear.
This makes Perry the dream candidate for Republicans. Republican voters don’t know what they really believe and neither does Perry. He says what they like to hear and his supporters use this as a substitute for thinking.
During the Monday night Tea Party debate the other Republican candidates ganged up on Perry regarding “Gardacil Rick”’s 2007 forced vaccination scheme. At issue was Perry’s executive order forcing all twelve-year-old girls in Texas public schools to receive the HPV vaccine intended to prevent cervical cancer. Only after much denunciation has Perry backed away from the matter, but only in the manner in which he committed it.
Note that Perry only says he’s sorry for the way he ordered the forced inoculations but he had the right intentions, which means he isn’t sorry at all. He isn’t sorry he forced vaccinations on anyone. He isn’t sorry that he involved government in a health care issue. What he’s really only sorry about is that his action proved unpopular and possibly harms his chances of becoming dictator.
Moderator Brian Williams’ smarmy question last week at the Reagan Library about the number of executions in Texas under Perry and the audience’s ghoulish roar similarly demonstrates how Perry and the GOP deserve each other.
Williams asked Perry if he had any trouble sleeping at night wondering whether just one of the 234 convicts executed during his governorship might have been innocent. That Perry so effortlessly answered affirmatively testifies to his intransigence and lack of reflection. One trembles to think what foreign policy blunders Perry would dig his heels into and refuse to correct.
But the clock is ticking on Perry because he faces the possibility of flaming out Fred Thompson style.
Four years ago the actor and former senator was supposed to be the savior for disgruntled conservatives. But Thompson waited and waited and by the time he entered the race he was in over his head. He didn’t have even a rudimentary grasp of the issues and all the other candidates pounced on him for all the preferential treatment he received when he wasn’t yet running. Now the man who would have been president is doing reverse mortgage commercials.
Conservatives are enamored with Perry right now because they like the idea of Rick Perry. They like that he’s from Texas and that he swaggers. He’s handsome, jogs with his gun, and the liberal media hate him. But nowhere in that list is a real reason to support any man for the most powerful job in the world.
Like Thompson, Perry entered the race and became an immediate frontrunner. A CNN poll has Perry currently ahead of Mitt Romney by a clip of 32-21. It’s hard to believe that a third of Republican primary voters know enough about Rick Perry at this stage to vault him ahead of Romney so most of Perry’s support has to be based on the idea of Rick Perry.
Up to this point in the primary process, candidates have been trying to knock Romney down over Massachusetts health care with little success. As the heat in the kitchen rises, Perry will face more scrutiny – scrutiny Romney has thus far survived.
For someone who has not debated particularly well when specifics have entered the equation, Perry’s moment might be dwindling.