Even if he was not its author, Ronald Reagan is often credited with the Republicans' 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.”
Newt Gingrich had it in mind when he offered the following riposte to John Harris during the first Republican presidential debate: “I for one, and I hope all of my friends up here, going to repudiate every effort of the news media to get Republicans to fight each other to protect Barack Obama who deserves to be defeated. And all of us are committed as a team, whoever the nominee is, we are all for defeating Barack Obama."
As soon as Governor Rick Perry entered the race, the 11th Commandment became a dead letter. It was open season on the guy from Texas.
Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann have led the charge. It hasn’t been the proverbial circular firing squad, because all the fire has been aimed at Rick Perry.
Perry has not held up well under the barrage. His performance has gotten worse from one debate to the next.
Perhaps in time he will regain traction, but for now his candidacy seems to have stalled out.
For those who believe that criticism makes us stronger, the truth is, standing before a firing squad or being pummeled by a gang does not make you stronger.
First, it makes you defensive. Then, it throws you off your game.
In the last debate Perry looked hesitant and unprepared; he got tangled up in his prepared remarks; he looked weak.
Clearly, Perry is an inexperienced debater. He is also a skilled orator; he delivers a much better speech than the other candidates.
More importantly, Rick Perry is running on a record. Few candidates would not be happy to defend Perry’s record in Texas. Who would not want to run on a record of producing jobs in a stagnant economy?
Better yet, Perry has succeeded in Texas by taking on important vested interests: trial lawyers, labor unions, environmentalists, and government bureaucrats.
If Perry is the nominee, each of these groups will attack him with everything they have. For now they don’t have to; Republicans are doing it for them.
If they can’t have Barack Obama these groups would be much more comfortable with a President Romney. The last thing they want is to see Texas policies take over the federal government.
While Gingrich was right that the media wants to see Republicans bloodying other Republicans, it is also true that the media would much prefer Mitt Romney to Rick Perry.
And many Republicans are so desperate to avoid four more years of Obama that they will happily take anyone they think can win.
If today’s polls are worth something, Romney seems to be the most electable.
Speaking of electability, Perry’s policies on illegal immigration—the ones that caused him the most grief at the last debate-- are very appealing to a large group of voters whose support will be decisive in this and forthcoming elections.
One wonders whether the Republican candidates, in their unseemly lust to bring down Perry, were thinking past the candidate debates.
Perry is not a perfect conservative. He is, after all, a retail politician, one who knows how to govern a large state and how to get things done.
His problem now is not so much his ideas, which have been defended cogently by a myriad of op-ed writers, but his inability to explain them cogently in debate.
By now, conservative pundits are aghast. Most of them would have supported Rick Perry, but, after watching the last three debates many of them are developing a case of trichotillomania.
Today, many of them sound like they would rather see Perry get out of the race, the better to open the door to the man they really, really want to see up on the stage confronting Barack Obama. That would be a favorite of mine: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
No one makes a better case for conservative governing principles than Chris Christie. No one is a tougher or stronger debater. No one does better in Town Hall meetings.
Many Republicans are salivating at the chance to see Christie take Barack Obama apart.
At last report, Christie is reconsidering his Shermanesque rejection of a 2012 run for the White House, so the pundit class might very well get its wish.
But they are making a very risky bet. If Christie maintains his resolve, they will be facing the choice between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. That is, the status quo vs. the status quo.
Or, maybe not.
Of course, Romney has his own problems with conservative Republicans. Yesterday, Dick Armey, declared that Romney would not be acceptable to the Tea Party.
And then, two liberal columnists MichaelTomasky and Nate Silver wrote that they were not going to count Rick Perry out.
Tomasky wrote: “Perry will study his briefing books and refrain from accusing, however accurately, his core constituents of heartlessness. But Romney can’t undo his evil socialistic Massachusetts history. The Redstate blogger wrote: ‘I don’t care if Perry is soft on immigration and tried to mandate a vaccination through executive order. Romney is the father of socialized medicine in America!’”
While Republicans are in despair over Rick Perry, a liberal like Tomasky offers a cogent view of Romney’s flaws: “… my case hinges … on the plainly observable fact that Mitt Romney is a really uninteresting and unappealing human being…. Who can possibly really like Romney? He’s like your boss, or the regional supervisor who comes by the office a few times a year. You tolerate him and suck up to him, but the experience is completely phony and awkward. I don’t know him and might have him wrong, but I’d just bet you a dollar that he doesn’t have many real friends. He has partners and associates and a swarm of acolytes who suck up to him because he’s rich. But he comes across as wooden, insincere (in a harmless rather than malevolent way), and totally emotionally unavailable.”
Tomasky does not much like Rick Perry, but I credit him with offering an honest appraisal of what is wrong with Mitt Romney.
More than a few Republican voters consider Romney to be an opportunistic phony. And more than a few will begin to think that attacking Rick Perry as brutally as he has is a serious character flaw, a failure to be a loyal member of the Republican party.
At the New York Times Nate Silver is also more optimistic about Perry’s prospects, largely because of the Republican antipathy to Mitt Romney. While Intrade numbers are trending more strongly toward Romney, Silver joins Tomasky in wanting to place his bet on Perry.
In his words: “But given the lack of appreciable momentum for any of the other candidates — and that all of them had been polling in the single digits — Mr. Perry will probably get a second and perhaps even a third look before one of them has the chance to emerge as the consensus alternative to Mr. Romney. In the parlance of the bond rating agencies, it is appropriate to put Mr. Perry’s campaign on a ‘negative outlook,’ but it is a little early for a full downgrade.”