Rick Perry’s latest “oops” moments are this Monday’s low-hanging fruit for bloggers, and by now it’s low-hanging fruit that seems thoroughly picked over. Looking back over the Republican campaign thus far, littered with what’s left of a bushel of front-runners whose campaigns ultimately withered on the vine, the dying gaffes of Perry’s candidacy seem like just one more added to the pile.
Taken as a whole, though, the GOP’s trail of broken dream candidates could lead back to what’s really driving the GOP’s “reality show” primary.”
In one weekend, Perry pronounced Solyandra a country, mispronounced the name of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and miscounted the members of the Supreme Court. Reaching for an explanation or a defense for all this, Perry borrowed a bit from fellow flameout Herman Cain’s “We need a leader, not a reader,” defense.
Rick Perry defended his most recent “oops” moment on Fox News Sunday.
“[Voters] aren’t looking for a robot…or someone who’s gonna be perfect in every way. They’re looking for someone who’s got values,” he said.
The question here isn’t what voters are looking for, so much as what Republican primary voters are looking for. The various candidates they’ve embraced, elevated to front-runner status, and abandoned — and one they may yet abandon — offer a hint.
Two come to mind. One out of the race, and one still in it — though perhaps just barely.
Michelle Bachmann started out nearly as strong as Perry, on the strength of her tea party street cred, and she’s still in there. She even landed a punch or two in the last GOP debate. A slight slowdown in Bachmann’s own gaffes suggests that maybe she’s rehabbing her image for a shot at VP. But she’s still the same Bachmann who:
- swore that, as president, she would shut down the nonexistent U.S. embassy in Iran
- warned that the U.N. could take away Americans’ gun rights
- claimed the HPV vaccine may cause including mental retardation
- called socialist China an example of capitalism the U.S. should follow
- said she would extend federal income tax to everyone, even it’s just “the price of two happy meals”
- declared she wanted to abolish the tax code
- remixes history and re-located the start of the Revolutionary War
- said that the founding fathers fought to end slavery, and then signed a pledge suggesting slavery had its advantages
- thanked a supporter for saying he’d rather vote for Charles Manson than Barack Obama
That’s only sample, but enough to show that Bachmann’s reassurance to the conservative base that she was, is and will always be their brand of crazy was hardly necessary. But even that wasn’t enough to stop her poll numbers from falling so low that even the tea party told her it was time to bow out.
Herman Cain, before his own “bimbo eruptions” drove him to retreat, claimed he was the Democrats worst nightmare, and assured Republican voters that he would clean president Obama’s clock in a debate. That was a pretty big hint at who well Cain knew the minds of white conservative voters. But before he turned out to be his own worst nightmare. That’s the Herman Cain who:
- said that the Arab Spring had “gotten out of hand”
- said he believes the majority of American Muslims are “extremists”
- accused blacks of “racism” for not supporting him
- gave a five minute non-answer to whether he agreed with president Obama on Lybia
- said it wasn’t important for him to know who’s the president of “Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan”
- all but invited Al Qaeda to kidnap U.S. troops
- borrowed his “999” tax plan from SimCity
- joked about building an electrified fence along the U.S. mexico border; seriously
Bachman and Cain fall into essentially the same category as Perry, one aptly described by Paul Begala as “the perfect candidate for those Republicans who viewed George W. Bush as just a little too cerebral,” and Michael Tomasky definite in greater detail.
Dog-whistle politics probably date back at least to Cato the Elder, but in our time the practice was perfected by George W. Bush. Tossing a scriptural reference into a public utterance that would go unnoticed by us heathens but would reassure the touched was a trademark of Bush and his talented speechwriter Michael Gerson. Well, we’re now in a new era. Rick Perry has traded in his dog whistle for an air-raid siren. He wants everyone to hear, loud and clear. His is the most right-wing presidential candidacy by a “serious” contender since I don’t know when (Warren Harding? But he pardoned Eugene Debs!). Have we really reached the point where reveling in conservative hatreds and revenge fantasies can get a man elected president?
Bush—and it leaves me speechless that he’s starting to look reasonable by comparison with the current crop of GOP presidential hopefuls—was hardly apologetic about his political views. But he and Karl Rove did have the sense to know when they were throwing gasoline on the domestic fire, and they did it in smallish doses. You might be able to Google up the odd careless quote from Bush about something like global warming, but in general, and especially on the occasions when he knew his words were being very closely watched, he steered well clear of extremism.
… Michele Bachmann aspires to be the right-wing It Girl. Perry wants to be the movement’s Id Boy. He’ll speak the words that the others won’t quite. Given this assemblage, that is really saying something, but consider: Even Bachmann has stuck largely to an economic script so far. Perry will home in on the darkest corners of the Tea Party mind and work relentlessly to activate the demons that lurk there. It will all be right out in the open. The questions are whether it can succeed, and whether Obama has the backbone to respond.
Doubts about Perry’s intellect notwithstanding, before the wheels fell off his campaign one by one, he was smart enough campaigner to know what the the GOP base wanted and to at least start out on message. Bachmann, Cain and Perry’s failures as candidates seem to have opened the door for another whose candidacy looked to be as dead as their own not long ago — Newt.
Yes, the same Newt who…called Michele Bachmann “factually challenged”, and whose list of public craziness is so long that I recommend perusing just the top ten.
And it’s Newt who’s the latest to tap into what conservatives are really looking for.
Someone recently said that Republican voters are acting like they’re auditioning not presidents but Fox News personalities. Primary voters want someone to channel their rage, their resentment, and their hatred of Obama in the same way that Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity do. Mitt Romney doesn’t make the kind of television personality that the other candidates do. The key to delivering the contempt over the airwaves is that you have to believe it, and while Mitt is happy to serve up the red meat, it’s pretty clear he doesn’t actually believe it but is giving his audience what he thinks they want to hear. All the other not-Mitts, for all their modest talents, clearly believe it. And yesterday, conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat made what I think is an important observation about the latest not-Mitt, Newt Gingrich:
IN 2004, the Democrats were furious at what they considered the fraud to end all frauds: the selling of George W. Bush as a decisive military leader and all-American tough guy. So they nominated John Kerry for the presidency, hoping that having a real combat veteran as their standard-bearer — a bemedaled war hero, no less, who began his convention speech by announcing that he was “reporting for duty” — would finally expose Bush as the tinhorn chicken hawk that liberals believed him to be.
The conventional wisdom holds that Mitt Romney is the John Kerry figure (a Northeastern flip-flopper with good hair) in the 2012 Republican primary field, with his various challengers auditioning to play the more exciting role of Howard Dean. But Newt Gingrich’s recent rise in the polls is being sustained, in part, by a right-wing version of exactly the impulse that led Democrats to nominate Kerry: a desperate desire to somehow beat Barack Obama at his own game, and to explode what conservatives consider the great fantasy of the 2008 campaign — the conceit that Obama possessed an unmatched brilliance and an unprecedented eloquence.
If so, the jokes on them, according to Paul Waldman.
So many conservatives have a fantasy that if they nominate their own smart guy, he’ll show the world that they’ve been right all along, that Obama is really a numbskull whom people only believe is smart because the liberal media sing his praises. Gingrich himself is well aware of this, which is why he’s happy to play into it by challenging Obama to a zillion debates and saying, to the laughs and cheers of the crowd, “If he wants to use a teleprompter, that would be fine with me.”
Newt may be, as Paul Krugman recently said, a stupid person’s idea of what a smart person sounds like. But to many Republicans, Newt offers the opportunity to not just defeat Obama but to expose him as a fraud. In truth, he’s probably capable of doing neither. But don’t tell his new supporters that. In Newt they are beginning to see the possibility of Obama being humiliated. And that could be a fantasy too delicious to resist.