I don’t think those of us in the reality-based community are sufficiently panicked about the prospect of a Rick Perry presidency. First, it’s foolish to think that Barack Obama has this election in the bag no matter who the GOP nominates. Second, Rick Perry is running away with this primary right now, besting Romney by double digits in most national and state polls. Third and most importantly, he’s just the right combination of dumb, ruthless, and insane to be formidable, electable, and unthinkably dangerous. Dangerous in foreign policy, dangerous in his rejection of science (or better-put, “knowledge“), dangerous in how he is likely to treat the poor and uninsured, dangerous in his brazen theocratic leanings. Dangerous, really, because he could win and start getting his way.
In most conventional races, one hopes that the opposing party nominates their craziest partisan so that our guy or gal can crush them in the center-focused general election. Perhaps in most cycles, Perry would be among that group of candidates. I’d be a little giddier if I thought, say, Michele Bachmann or Newt Gingrich were close to scoring the top of the GOP ticket. For the Republicans to nominate a less rabid conservative would make Obama’s chances all the narrower. But Perry has emerged in a unique time, a time in which a charming, folksy nut bag can take advantage of the desperation, ignorance, and fear of even the political center and win the White House.
Now, there is no acceptable GOP candidate (save perhaps Jon Huntsman, who I think could make a plausible run for the Democratic nomination as a kind of moderate, blue dog type). All of them would be disastrous for the country, disaster for the principles held dear by liberals, disaster for the poor and working classes, disaster for the separation of church and state, disaster for national security and foreign policy.
But there are degrees. No one would doubt, for example, in 2000, that even though George W. Bush turned out to be a disaster of unpredictable proportions, that, say, a Gary Bauer or Alan Keyes presidency would have been triply or quadruply worse. There are degrees.
This is why progressives and Democrats (not the same thing) should defy convention. Stop rooting for a Bachmann or Palin nomination, because neither will happen. Likewise, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain are all destined to at some point lose this nomination race. There are only two possibilities: Perry and Mitt Romney. Rooting for Perry is total folly. He could be elected, perhaps rather easily, and would be perhaps the most damaging of any of the aforementioned candidates (save perhaps Bachmann, but she lacks any political skill for actual governing, which I will get to). Given the very real — even likely — possibility of a Republican in the White House in 2013, there is really only one thing left to say.
Mitt Romney for president!
Not really “for president” of course. But liberals should wish with all their hearts, and do whatever they can, to see that Romney wins the GOP nomination. Do opposition research for him on Perry, lift up other right-wing candidates to steal his thunder, speak well of Romney — in conservative terms of course, whenever possible. (Example: “It sure seems like Romney has a better plan for lowering taxes than Perry.”) If you can spare it, donate to Romney’s campaign, and specify it for the primary season.
I know this sounds crazy, but it’s crucial. Less than keeping Obama in office, progressives should really focus their efforts on making sure Rick Perry never becomes president. Ever. That means taking the chance that Romney might be instead.
You know I loathe Mitt Romney. To make a case for him pains me more than I can tell you. But many of those reasons for which he earns my disgust are the very reasons why he would be preferable to Perry. Consider:
- The most obvious: Romney is at his heart more moderate than Perry. Yes, his positions on gay marriage, abortion, taxes, health care, etc. are wrong, but they are less wrong than Perry’s.
- He is far smarter than Perry, and far less jingoistic. While he has made no bones about publicly detesting Obama’s insufficient slobbering love for American super-awesomeness, he is at least a shrewd and subtle thinker who is less prone to blunder the country into some military disaster because of some knee-jerk macho overreaction.
- Most importantly: Mitt Romney has no principles. He is of and entwined with the rich establishment, but he is primarily concerned with self-elevation. His flip-floppiness, his willingness to say and do anything to earn political favor make him a far better Republican to have in charge than the Idiot King, Rick “Treat-Him-Pretty-Ugly” Perry.
Think about it. Though we are, for now, taking an unfortunate and dangerous lurch to the right in American politics, it can not be permanent. If 2006 and 2008 taught us anything, it’s that Republican policies and behavior allowed to run rampant eventually make their flaws transparent. The country will lurch back toward the center.
With Perry in the Oval Office, he will, even more so than George W. Bush, stand firm in his wrongheadedness, and remain steadfast in fighting for his far-right laundry list of tragic priorities.
But Romney will feel those political winds, and bend with them. To every breeze and gust of moderation and progressivism, Romney will open himself up like a sail and drift, drift. Romney is eminently pliable, and that is our best hope. As his only concern will be his own preservation, a President Romney would adjust his course as the political currents take the country in directions he would normally find uncomfortable — but not unfamiliar. Romney the Senate candidate backed abortion rights. Romney the governor passed universal health care. All because his constituency, the source of his political winds in Massachusetts, was center-left.
Perry is a terrifying threat to the health of our democracy, to the integrity of everything America has achieved since Roosevelt. Both of them, even! Romney would be a huge disappointment, and do his own level of damage to the country. But the impact crater of his presidency’s collision with the electorate would be far smaller than if we ran headlong into a Perry presidency.
So I say without reservation: Until August 27, 2012 at the opening of the Republican National Convention, Romney for president!