How Perry Can Beat GOP Heel-Nippers
Texas Governor Rick Perry's been getting pummeled lately. By the entire GOP presidential field, as a matter of fact, and by Washington's Republican establishmentarians, whose high-income jobs hinge on brilliant insights -- such as that voters don't want another Texan in the White House (brilliance as clichéd minds can produce). Or that Perry's really a goner for stepping on the Social Security third rail.
All this tends to happen to a frontrunner. But Perry can turn the tables. He can make his rivals (and their enablers) look snarky -- heel-nippers, who are so intent on bringing down Perry that they've lost sight of the bigger picture. Perry needs to frame the GOP nominating fight in terms as big as Texas.
Like Rick Perry or not, he's a man inclined to straight talk. Indirection and nuance ain't Perry's bag. Perry's book Fed Up! wasn't your typical pol's tome, full of platitudes, breezy generalizations, and difference-splitting analysis. All the better, because the times call for no bones talk about the peril America faces.
That peril is very real and growing. In economic terms, America's peril could develop into something on the scale of a world war. Europe is teetering on the brink of financial disaster. If Europe falls, it's going to drag America's ailing economy right down with it. And all of President Obama's Keynesian hocus-pocus isn't going to stop the carnage.
Voters understand the nation's precarious economic condition; what they need is an old Air Force pilot's over-the-horizon assessment of threats to the nation that are about to loom very large. From the GOP presidential field, more or less, voters are hearing prescriptions that move away starkly from Mr. Obama's failed attempts to make statism work.
Where Rick Perry can soar over his rivals is by speaking plain, proposing big, and reasserting American greatness and exceptionalism. Nothing can beat Americans, unless Americans beat themselves. Reform is the order of the day -- or better, a return to the fundamentals that made America great: smaller government and the restoration of freedoms that will get Americans creating and expanding businesses and working again.
Downsizing government, getting the nation's financial house in order, and righting the economy will not come without pain -- so Perry should declare. But better to have some pain upfront in the service of redirecting the nation toward its tried and true principles and ways than a lot of pain pursuing or clinging to approaches and policies that move America down the road to ruin.
Perry needs to tell audiences that reform isn't about reinventing America, as Barack Obama and his statist colleagues have disastrously attempted to do. Conservative reform means getting America back to those things that always worked -- that enhance, not diminish, freedom. Americans are small-c conservatives; they don't like disruptive change, and they're typically not experimenters. Perry has the chance to frame reform in terms that reassure; America needs to return to its roots.
The general take is that Perry stumbled in the Reagan Library debate. In fairness to Perry, it's tough enough to battle one debate opponent, to say nothing of seven. Go ask the Alamo's defenders what it was like to be attacked from all sides. Granted, Perry needs to up his A-game moving forward. However seasoned Perry is in state politics, stepping into the national arena is stepping into politics' major leagues. To play and win in the big leagues, Perry needs smart ways to distance himself from his rivals. One way Perry accomplishes this is by contrasting the magnitude of the challenges America faces -- and his remedies -- with the smallness of the attacks on him by his opponents.
The suggestion isn't for Perry to take an above-the-fray approach. Any candidate who doesn't respond quickly to a major rival's attack is a fool. Perry can't let Mitt Romney argue that President Perry would have old people eating dog food. The Texas governor can't permit an ego-bruised Michele Bachmann (Perry's entrance into the race undercut Bachmann's campaign) charge that Perry is a needle-crazed statist (referencing the mandatory HPV vaccine for Texas schoolgirls).
Respond Perry must to significant attacks, but then he needs to pivot. He needs to say to Romney, "Governor, you claim to share with me the imperative to reform Social Security, yet you're indulging in the crudest tactics aimed at scaring seniors. The point of this debate shouldn't be to tear each other apart, but to build a case for reforms and policies that return America to greatness...that permits small businesses to start and grow...that puts people to work...and that secures a bright future for all Americans."
And in response to Bachmann's taunts about the HPV vaccine flap, Perry needs to say: "Rep. Bachmann, I've said publicly that the executive order I signed was wrong. I've apologized for the mistake. I believe Americans accept that no one's perfect, and when we've learned from our mistakes, Americans want us to move ahead. The nation is facing, perhaps, an unparalleled economic crisis. Americans want us candidates to speak about how we intend to meet the challenges of a crisis, and how we propose to restore prosperity, jobs, and a better future for every citizen."
No surprise here. The economy needs to be the centerpiece of Perry's case to restore American greatness. Perry needs to argue day in and day out that while his opponents whine, harp, and snark, his sights are set on fixing the big problems that the nation is confronting...on restoring American prosperity and greatness. He needs to make that case in New Hampshire, Iowa, Florida, South Carolina -- wherever he campaigns.
And the key component of an economy-focused campaign is Perry's avowal, paraphrased here, to work every day to make Washington, D.C. as inconsequential to Americans' lives as is possible. As Ronald Reagan famously said, government is the problem. Perry needs to lead the charge on making government smaller -- and not just for show.
While other GOP presidential aspirants play small ball, Perry needs to play big ball -- Texas ball -- with an eye toward a break for an open-field run. Voters don't care one whit if their next president is from Passaic, New Jersey or Paint Creek, Texas. Not with the economy about to slide off another -- perhaps steeper -- cliff. They want solutions, big ideas, and guts from their next chief executive. Voters want an end to yet another failed statist experiment in social engineering and a restoration of authentic American values and ways.
Rick Perry has a chance to offer voters a clear path to a spectacular restoration of real America -- the America of liberty and prosperity, the America that's the beacon of the world.