September 27, 2011

Romney vs Perry: Republicans Display Their Divisions

After the American Century

The Republican presidential hopefuls have been stumping and debating for months, but I have not been commenting on them. Until now.  Two figures have emerged as front runners, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have now emerged as the early front runners, and while this could easily change, an analysis is in order.

Romney is an old face.  Former governor of Massachusetts, where in passed a health care bill not so different from President Obama's, he came to politics from business, where he became financially independent. His family has long been identified with the Northern, more moderate wing of the Republican Party, and his father succeeded in being elected governor of Michigan, which is usually regarded as a more Democratic state. His father also ran for president several times. In short, Romney would be a strategically smart choice for the Republicans, because he would appeal to centrist and Northern voters, who will be essential to win the election. There is, however, the problem of Romeny's personality, or rather lack thereof. Romney is not a warm person. He can even come across as rather heartless at times. He is not a particularly stirring speaker. Add to this that the Southern Democrats (many of them former Republicans) do not like his "soft" stands on abortion and gay marriage. They are even less excited by the fact he is a Mormon. No one of htat faith has ever been elected president, and polls show Mormons are less electable than Catholics. In short, he may be the sensible centrist candidate for the Republicans, but he does not inspire them. There is no passion for Romney.

Texas governor Perry is a new face on the national scene, and in many ways is the mirror opposite of Romney. He generates more passion and many love him down in his native South, where he claims to be the small government candidate who creates jobs. He constantly attacks Washington, which has been a successful formula for candidates since the nineteenth century. (Obama also ran against Washington in 2008.) 

Perry would have had an excellent chance of winning the presidency of the Confederacy, if they had only won the Civil War. Indeed, Perry has hinted that succession from the union is still a viable option for Texas. On the other hand, he has a "soft" stand on immigration. For example, he allows children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at Texas universities. If the children were born in the US, they are automatically citizens, so this is hardly a radical idea, though it upsets many Republicans. Michelle Bachmann typifies the hand-line stance on this issue, as she would put an fence “on every mile, on every yard, on every foot” of the border with Mexico. This is easy for her to say, because there are few Hispanic voters in Minnesota, where she gets elected. Perry faces the electoral reality that Hispanics are a force in Texas politics.

But on many hot-button issues Perry is closer to the Republican Southern base, notably abortion and gay marriage. Perry has also organized and led a prayer meeting where many of the other speakers sounded just plain crazy. One speaker at this giant meeting, held in a Houston stadium, declared that the Japanese economic downturn of the 1990s was the direct result of the Emperor of Japan having sex with a demon goddess. Another declared, in all seriousness, that Oprah Winfrey is the harbinger of the Anti-Christ! You will also learn that the Statue of Liberty is a "demonic idol" foisted on the US by French Freemasons. As a sensible reader, you surely think I am making this up, so here is the link, where you can see and hear for yourself. There you will hear so many odd, crackpot opinions, that it may seem that the entire deranged right-wing of America gathered to support Rick Perry in Houston. 

It is a measure of how far US politics have moved to the right that Perry can even be considered for the office of President. And it is also a measure of how much the political landscape has changed, that cold and colorless Romney begins to look rather good by comparison. They represent the two rather incompatible sides of the Republican Party,  On the one side the North, old money, reasonable language, and centrism; on the other side the South, revivalism, apocalyptic language, the Tea Party, and anti-state, anti-science, and anti-compromise rage.

However, just as Hillary Clinton led the field in the fall of 2007 but ultimately lost in the spring of 2008, these front runners could knock each other out, while a third candidate snatches the prize of nomination. Such a third candidate will not necessarily be better than Perry or Romney. 

It is not over yet. Indeed, it has hardly begun.