July 25, 2011


Romney's Resistible Rise: The GOP contemplates a wedding of convenience. (Ramesh Ponnuru, 7/25/11, National Review)

While Palin may have brought more charisma to the national scene, Bachmann's assets are likely to prove more enduring.

Can she win the nomination? History is not on her side. Nobody even slightly to the right of the party establishment has won it since 1984. The party has enough conservative voters to make the victory of such a candidate possible, but it is hard to unify them around a single candidate in opposition to an establishment favorite. And Bachmann is well to the right of previous candidates who have tried, such as Jack Kemp, Phil Gramm, and the 2008 Romney. The party has moved right in recent years, but probably not enough for Bachmann to make it.

Pawlenty could in theory be a strong general-election candidate: He is a moderate conservative who governed a deep-blue state in a region that has been trending toward the Republicans. He could also pose a serious threat to Romney's chances of winning the nomination, since he could win establishment support while also running to Romney's right. The question about his candidacy has always been whether he would ever be able to get alone in the ring with Romney. During the spring, it began to look possible. Republicans' familiarity with him increased, he got favorable mentions in the conservative media, and insiders began rating his chances better. Doubts about whether he could excite voters and raise money began to recede.

Then he brought them back. He spent early June positioning himself as the candidate most committed to supply-side economics and neoconservative foreign policy, to little noticeable effect in the polls. But the time he spent on those projects was merely a missed opportunity. More damaging were his decisions, first, to light into Romney's Massachusetts health-care plan as "Obamneycare" during a television interview, and, second, to back away from the criticism a day later, during the first presidential debate that included Romney.

The first decision was a mistake: Pawlenty should have let other candidates flay Romney, and then added weight to their critique. But running away from the criticism once he had made it was a disaster. It made him seem too weak to take on Romney, and, by extension, Obama. The incident also highlighted some fundamental flaws of Pawlenty's campaign. Pawlenty is a thoughtful conservative running as a caricature of a tea partier, in part because of an exaggerated concern, fueled by the coverage of his campaign, that he is too dull. "Obamneycare" was a borderline-juvenile taunt; Pawlenty would not have felt awkward delivering a more serious critique -- e.g., "I think Romney went down the wrong path on health care" -- to Romney's face.

Facing criticism after the debate for cowardice, Pawlenty then, absurdly, called Romney a "co-conspirator" with Obama on health care -- as though Romney had consciously attempted to make it easier to pass the national health-care law. If Pawlenty had run as himself, he could have spared himself all this trouble. He has made it less likely that he will ever be in a position to take down Romney. Now Pawlenty is having to take shots at Bachmann, Romney, and Obama in order to stay in the game.

Romney, on the other hand, has the luxury of just taking on Obama. His record on health care is still a serious potential vulnerability, but so long as no alternative candidate takes flight, it may not matter. It seems pretty clear that Romney's advisers think that Bachmann cannot defeat him but can prevent anyone who can from emerging as the anyone-but-Romney candidate. Pawlenty's decline and Bachmann's rise are thus both very good pieces of news for him -- as is the continuing weakness of the economy, which makes him appear a safer bet for the general election.

The Republican field is not weak in the sense that its members are sure losers in a general election: Romney, Pawlenty, and Huntsman all meet the criteria to win in November 2012. They have executive experience, they come across as sensible, and they have not taken any sure-loser positions.

Texas spending kept rising for years with Perry as governor (Aman Betheja, , Jul. 18, 2011, DFW Star-Telegram)

[S]pending through 2011, adjusted for population and inflation, rose more on average while Perry has been in charge than it did under his predecessor, George W. Bush, according to a Star-Telegram analysis.

In the past, Perry has criticized Bush for not controlling spending while governor.

"Let me tell you something," Perry told a small group of Iowa Republicans in 2007 while campaigning for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was running for president. "George Bush was never a fiscal conservative. ... I mean, '95, '97, '99, George Bush was spending money."

When Bush was governor, total state spending rose 13.3 percent every two years on average. Adjusting the figures for population growth and inflation, that growth rate was 2.3 percent.

Perry took the reins in December 2000. From then until 2011, spending increased an average of 16.8 percent every two years. Once adjusted for population and inflation, that rate falls to 4.2 percent. Adjusted spending figures in the just-passed 2012-13 budget are not yet available.

If Perry runs for president, his fiscal record in Texas is sure to draw more scrutiny, just as it did for Bush.

The problem being that Mr. Perry faces austerity hysteria rather than a time of plenty.

Posted by at July 25, 2011 7:36 AM

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