Archive for September, 2011

GOP Presidential Candidates Series: Rick Perry

(For past entries in the series, see: Herman Cain and Tim Pawlenty)

Time for another entry in the series, and today we look at Texas Governor Rick Perry, the most recent entrant into the Republican nomination contest. Perry’s campaign image is based on two claims:

1)  He is just as credible a candidate as Mitt Romney, which means he is a strong, smart leader who can beat Barack Obama, and 2) He is more conservative than the flip-flopping Mitt Romney. If Perry can successfully portray himself as fulfilling both of those claims, then he will win the Republican nomination. Initially, it looked like Perry had both qualities down. Now, it appears there are some serious holes in Perry’s narrative.

Perry’s policy and stances on the issues

Perry has dense ties to the Tea Party. They like his staunch fiscal conservatism, no-apologies attitude and his strong religious faith. Perry is very well known on the faith side, having declared three “Days of Prayer for Rain in Texas”  during that state’s historic wildfires. He also hosted a huge, evangelical, semi-political prayer rally right before he declared his Presidential candidacy. Clearly, he sees no problem with using his public office to promote his faith.

Perry also double checks the boxes on many key conservative issues. As the Governor of Texas, he has presided over more executions than a Chinese official at a pro-democracy rally. Conservatives seem to love that. He is also a huge supporter of gun rights. Notably, he jogs with a pistol at his side and has used it to shoot a coyote that looked at his dog funny.

Rick Perry has frequently used belligerent words to describe Social Security, calling it a “Ponzi scheme.” On this issue, his differences with the rest of the GOP field are probably more fluff than substance. Romney has criticized Perry for calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme, but they both want to seriously scale back or transform the program, so there’s really no difference in substance between the two.

Perry does not have a detailed economic plan, like most of the candidates in the field. He prefers to say that Texas is his economic plan. Perry is trying to say that because Texas did better than many states over the past few years, that shows Perry could improve the US’s economy. Going along with that, he likes to take credit for the fact that half the jobs created in the US over X period of time were created in Texas. While its not clear that Perry had anything to do with his state’s job creation over the past few years, this is an important point in Perry’s campaign and it needs to be honestly assessed.

Ezra Klein breaks down the why and how Texas has been adding jobs over the past few years. Apparently, “almost half of the state’s job growth came in the education, health care, and government sectors. Notice a pattern? These are all sectors that depend, at least in part, on government support.” Another 13 percent of  Texas’ jobs have come from the oil and gas  industries. So is Rick Perry planning to boost government spending and suddenly uncover oil and natural gas deposits across the US when he becomes President? Hell no. The dirty little secret is that Texas had more jobs than other states (in part) because Texas government spending actually increased  from 2008-2012. But Rick Perry has promised to slash spending if made President. For those keeping track so far, Perry either can’t or won’t replicate a solid three-fifths of the “Texas miracle” when/if he becomes President.

So what about the rest of Texas’ job growth? Most of that can be attributed to Texas fast population growth over the past few years. More people in the state=more need for goods and services=more jobs. Another factor is the fact that the housing bubble was much smaller in Texas than it was in the rest of the country, thanks to plentiful land, high property taxes and surprisingly strict regulations on lending. Again, is Rick Perry going to recommend increasing immigration into the US and adopting strict regulations on banks? No. So its unlikely that he will bring these facets of the “Texas miracle” to the national stage.

“But what about business climate??” you scream. I’m sure that Texas’ low taxes and generally light regulations have contributed to growth in that state on the margins. But they have contributed much less than the other factors mentioned above. Strong demand trumps a good business climate any day of the week and there has been comparatively strong demand in Texas for the past few years  which has drawn in jobs.

In short, there’s really no evidence that low taxes and fewer regulations would bring the United  States’ economy any of the relative economic success that Texas has enjoyed. A lot of factors contributed to the “Texas miracle,” the least of which was low taxes and few regulations. When you also take into account that Texas leads the nation in percent of workers with minimum wage jobs, in percent of people without health insurance and is the sixth-most impoverished state in the nation, the Texas miracle starts to look like a Texas tragedy.

On most social issues, like abortion, guns, gays and religion, Perry is a conservative’s conservative. On other issues he has taken some bold stances that are against the norm in conservative politics. He wisely tried to get young girls inoculated against HPV and he has been quite moderate in his treatment of the state’s Hispanic population. Texas has not pursued an Arizona-style anti-immigrant law, while Perry signed a law giving the children of illegal immigrants access to Texas’ universities at the cost of in-state tuition. However, Perry has signed a bill requiring photo IDs to cast a vote, which will limit the poor and elderly’s access to the ballot box, with no apparent positive benefits.

The politics of Rick Perry’s campaign

As I’ve already written, Perry came into the race with a lot of promise and a full head of steam. He was going to be the candidate who could rally the support of both the Tea Party and the Republican establishment, while using Texas’ economic record as a bludgeon against Barack Obama in the general election. After his abysmal performance in the past few debates, Rick Perry is slipping in the polls  and people have raised serious doubts about his preparation and ability to be President. Some commentators have already thrown Perry in with the other “crazy” candidates of this cycle (Bachmann, Newt Gingrich).

Obviously, Perry has to do whatever he can to shake off this characterization, but the damage might already be done. Polls show Perry dropping and there is talk that Chris Christie might enter the race while Herman Cain is rising. People have moved on from Perry and he is now coming off as somewhat of a fad. It will be interesting to see where the campaign goes from here. There’s not another debate scheduled for awhile, so that gives the candidates time to message and spin. No matter what happens in the interim, Perry has to pull off a stunning performance in the next debate to turn his ship around. He has a legendary campaign manager and has never lost a race, so a comeback is within the realm of possibility.

As far as how he stacks up in a potential match-up with Barack Obama, Perry polls worse than Mitt Romney. It seems that the general public isn’t ready for another swaggering, fact-averse Texas governor in the White House, so soon after the last one ended in disaster.

Though he’s made some reasonable decisions, Perry’s economics are more of the same old Republican boilerplate. He didn’t learn a thing from his time in Texas that could help the rest of the country. I’m a fan of secular politics. While Perry’s faith-based grandstanding doesn’t bother me as much as it does many people, it certainly doesn’t endear him to me at all. The last thing this country needs is more culture wars and wedge issues. Rick Perry seem to be all bluster and no substance.


What I’m reading (and you should too!)

Here are a few very thought-provoking articles from the past week or so. All are well worth reading:

1. “Did the Founding Fathers Screw Up?” by Harold Meyerson. He talks about the way gridlock is built into our political system and about how that is now turning into a major problem for America.

2. “Obama’s Katrina was also Boehner’s Katrina”  by Jonathan Chait. This is a short, concise and incisive article on problems in America’s government. You’ll spend 2 minutes reading it and 15 minutes contemplating the conclusion.

3. “Hunting the Rich,” an editorial by The Economist. This is a right-leaning take on reducing deficits from one of the most respected publications in the world. Its stance is not my favorite, but there is common ground to be found with a sensible proposal like this.

4. “Praying for Rick Perry” by Robert Shrum. He writes about how both Democrats and conservative Republicans want Rick Perry to be the party’s nominee.

5. “Unappealing” by Dahlia Lithwick. Lithwick gives you all the possibilities  now that health reform is moving to the Supreme Court, with her surprising conclusion that the high court might not even want to take this appeal at all.

As another reminder, my “blogroll” on the lower right part of the page has all the blogs I frequent  for my news and analysis. Visit those sites to find some diverse commentary on politics and policy.

What Mitt Romney has to do to win the nomination

Mitt Romney has a problem. A solid majority of the Republican base does not want him to be their nominee  for President. He has been either the most or second-most popular Republican in the field since this campaign began, but that hides his underlying weakness. The conservative  base of the Republican Party does not trust him because only a few years ago he was pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-stem cell research and pro-universal healthcare. *Miraculously,* Romney had a change of heart on these issues as soon as he started running for President, but that doesn’t fool most conservatives (nor should it). These are among the several reasons why there is a solid bloc of Republicans who are searching for someone, anyone to nominate but Mitt.

For the purposes of this discussion, there are two principle blocs of Republican voters. There is the establishment wing of the Party, who comprise the staunchly pro-business, pro-defense Republicans and most of the moderates in the party. The other wing is the conservative wing. This part of the party is dominated by socially conservative evangelicals and the economically conservative Tea Party. Mitt Romney does very well with the former and very poorly with the latter. For an illustration, let’s look at the poll data:

Romney and Jon Huntsman are the two current candidates who appeal to the establishment wing of the party, while all the rest more or less appeal to the conservative wing of the party(with the exception of Ron Paul, who appears to have his own constituency). Note that there are far more voters in the “conservative” wing than in the “establishment” wing.

Romney has maintained a fairly constant level of support between 15 and 25 percent of the Republican electorate. Romney’s support rose from about 17 to 25 percent early in the summer after Mitch Daniels, another contender for the establishment vote, announced he was not running. Romney maintained 25 percent support through the summer. Crucially, the rise of Bachmann this summer did nothing to dampen Romney’s numbers. This appears to indicate that few of Republican establishment deserted Romney to support the rising Michele Bachmann.

Romney did start dropping once Rick Perry entered the race. Perry was initially billed as the one candidate that could unite the establishment and conservative wings of the party. After his poor showings in the debates, Perry has dropped somewhat and Romney has risen. That tells me that Romney’s establishment defectors have retreated from the Perry camp, back to Romney. It also seems that Perry’s debate flubs don’t bother the conservative wing of the Party.

So what do all these roving poll numbers mean for Mitt Romney? First they show that Romney has a base of support such that about 15 percent of Republicans definitely think he should be the next President. Second (and more importantly), three-quarters of the Republican electorate desperately want someone other than Romney to be the Republicans’ nominee. Look at how his support dropped by a third at the mere prospect that there could be a  nominee who was just as respectable as Romney, but twice as conservative!

Seventy-five percent of Republicans want someone other than Romney to be their nominee. If a credible conservative can consolidate that vote after the Iowa caucuses or the South Carolina primary (even assuming Romney wins New Hampshire), then Romney is in big trouble. Once their first-choice candidates drop out, Santorum, Bachmann, Cain and Gingrich supporters will look to support another conservative candidate, rather than Romney.

To win the nomination then, Romney has to either win over conservatives who seem to want anyone but him (not likely), OR he has to prevent a credible conservative challenger from emerging. Right now, Romney’s greatest strength is that he can say this: “I can beat Barack Obama.” If there is anyone else in the field who is both more conservative than Mr. Romney and can also say that, then they will win. Romney’s path to victory is as the last man standing.

The end of Michele Bachmann’s candidacy

I’m calling it right now. We have just seen the end of Michele Bachmann’s Presidential candidacy. Yes, technically she is still running for President and will continue to do so for some time. But, she is no longer one of the major players in the Republican field and has basically zero chance of being the Republican nominee.

How did this happen? The death knell was Florida’s Republican straw poll results. But that just capped off a long drop that started when Rick Perry entered the race in early August and was furthered by Bachmann’s bad debate performances and gaffes on the campaign trail.

Bachmann was once the leading “anti-Romney” candidate in the field. For a period of time, she was the candidate that conservatives and Tea Partiers looked to to carry their banner in the race. Conservatives and the Tea Party, as a whole, have never really trusted Mitt Romney and would obviously prefer that one of their own be the party’s nominee. For awhile, Bachmann was the right’s preferred candidate. Now, they have a new champion, Rick Perry.

As you can see from RealClearPolitics’ poll data chart, Perry’s rise took a significant amount of support from Bachmann and also, seemingly,  Herman Cain. Right now in national polling, Bachmann is sitting just below Ron Paul and just above Newt Gingrich. In other words, she is only as popular as candidates No Hope and Without a Prayer. She is done.

The Florida straw poll results show that the passion for a Bachmann presidency is gone. Straw polls are dominated by the most hardcore conservative activists and voters and can indicate the base enthusiasm for certain candidates. Bachmann finished in dead last in Florida, right behind Jon Hunstman. Let me repeat, Bachmann garnered less votes in this ultra-conservative contest than Jon Huntsman.

Now many of you will say “well, Bachmann wasn’t even participating in this contest, so its no surprise that she didn’t do well.” That is partially true. She would have done better had she put resources in the contest, but why didn’t she? The high-water mark of the Bachmann candidacy was her win in the Iowa straw poll. Certainly, if she had won this straw poll, that would have kept up her momentum. Ah, but there’s the rub. Bachmann didnt think she could win this contest. It wasn’t some accident that kept her from participating,  it was the reality that she would have been embarrassed even more by the loss if she had participated. So, her campaign decided to save face and punt on this contest. That begs the question: if Bachmann can’t even win these conservative straw polls,  what chance does she have in the primaries?

There’s also the fact that many candidates do well in straw polls, even if they are not directly participating in them. Perry (or “Parry”) made a good showing at the Iowa straw poll despite not being on the ballot. Romney finished in third in the Florida straw poll  and, like Bachmann, he wasn’t participating in the contest. If  Bachmann’s support has dried up at these kinds of events to the point where she comes in dead last and is too scared to even participate, then she has no chance of going anywhere in this campaign.

Recent events just underscore that Bachmann was no more than a late summer flash in the pan. Now watch as she just fades out of the conversation…

Rick Perry fading after the last Republican debate

Texas Governor Rick Perry got hammered on the Fox News/Google stage last night. If someone were just tuning into the Republican Presidential contest for the first time last night, it might even have looked like Perry was the moderate on the stage. Mitt Romney came after Perry for supporting in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants while Michele Bachmann continued her line of attack on Perry for supporting giving the HPV vaccine to young girls. These attacks put Perry on the defensive and forced him to defend positions he has taken outside of mainstream Republican orthodoxy. That’s not a good thing for the candidate who is trying to be THE conservative in this race.

The press has been nearly unanimous in labeling Perry the loser in last night’s debate.  Politico/Yahoo wonders if this is the beginning of the end for Perry, saying that Perry’s performance will convince Republicans that the Governor is “not ready for the big leagues.” Chris Cillizza also suggests that Perry is not ready for prime time, putting him in the “losers” column, while Romney sits comfortably on top of the “winners” column.

And it wasn’t just his opponents attacks that took a toll on Perry. The candidate also made some unforced errors. Perry showed that he had never given any thought to national security issues. He was asked about what he would do if Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal fell into Taliban hands. Even though this is kind of a ridiculous debate question, requiring only boilerplate filler about always being prepared and acting decisively, Perry was clearly shaken and caught off-guard. He rambled his way through a “response” that trailed over to our weapons sales to India and Taiwan and was just painful to watch.

Romney and Perry are the two front-runners in this race for the Republican Presidential nomination, so Perry’s bad performance is good for Romney, right? Actually, several commentators have a different take on the  dynamics of this contest. Even though Perry was not acquitted himself very well lately, he is the most credible conservative in the race. Romney gives clear and crisp answers to the questions while Perry often fumbles around and misses opportunities, but conservatives don’t trust Romney.

Romney has an appearance problem. He’s only ever won one election in his life, but he comes across as the quintessential politician. His biggest accomplishment in his one term in political office is the health care plan that became the model for President Obama’s healthcare plan. He has a problem connecting on a personal level with Tea Partiers and conservative voters. The straight-shooting Gov. Perry has always been able to connect with the Republican Party’s base. He speaks their language in a way that Romney can never hope to.

The conservative base of the party wants a nominee they can be excited about. They haven’t really come to see Romney as that person. Perry, though, can fill the mold. As long as the questions about Perry’s candidacy don’t become too serious, the conservatives can carry him through. He has wide latitude for mistakes just because Republicans don’t seem to want to give this to Romney.

Ron Paul and what causes suicide terrorism

Rep. Ron Paul is always a guy you can look to for some crazy comments. Whether its his views on the economy or on health care, this guy is always good for some raised eyebrows and a laugh or two. Recently, Paul has argued that the primary motivation for suicide attacks on the United States, like 9/11, is US occupation of Muslim countries. First, Paul made that claim in a web post . He said:

Though it is hard for many to believe, honest studies show that the real motivation behind the September 11 attacks and the vast majority of other instances of suicide terrorism is not that our enemies are bothered by our way of life. Neither is it our religion, or our wealth.

Rather, it is primarily occupation. If you were to imagine for a moment how you would feel if another country forcibly occupied the United States, had military bases and armed soldiers present in our hometowns, you might begin to understand why foreign occupation upsets people so much.

He was attacked for this view at the last debate when Rick Santorum said “We were not attacked because of our actions,” Santorum said. “They want to kill us for who we are and what we stand for.”

However, as much as it pains me to say it, on this point Ron Paul is mostly right. Robert A. Pape , one of the most respected academic experts on national security, recently published a book (with James K. Feldman) titled “Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It.” In it they argue that Muslims are motivated to kill Americans and other Westerners because of

“deep anger at the presence of Western combat forces in the Persian Gulf region and other predominantly Muslim lands….  nationalism–the desire to protect and perpetuate their community’s political, religious and social institutions –is the central explanation for why some individuals …willingly chose to defend their community’s way of life by sacrificing their own in carrying out suicide attacks.”

Their evidence is compelling. They have compiled a worldwide database of every known suicide attack and confirmed suicide attacker since 1980. After looking at the database, one comes to the unmistakable conclusion that occupation and a desire to protect a community’s political, religious and social institutions are the root causes of suicide terrorism. Continue reading

“We should eliminate waste, fraud and abuse”

You win a prize if you can name the politician who promised to do this when they were elected to office. O wait, as it turns out, every single candidate for every elected office from President to deputy school board member has made a promise to “eliminate waste, fraud and abuse” in the government. From the tone of campaigns, you’d think that Washington (or state capitals) was just full of all this waste, fraud and abuse (WF&A) and that all of our elected representatives are completely unwilling to do anything about it. At least now that we have all these vigilant waste-cutters on the case, surely this problem has been completely solved?  Well, yes and no.

As it turns out, there is very little obvious WF&A around in Washington. Ezra Klein has the rundown of all the WF&A that Obama proposes eliminating in his deficit plan. It doesn’t amount to a whole lot of money, “just” “$160 billion over 10 years, and a big chunk of that ($30 billion or more) would come from cracking down on tax cheats by beefing up the IRS, hardly an uncontroversial thing to do.” That’s because, if there were obvious sources of WF&A in the government, they would have been taken care  of by now.

The claim that someone is going to go to Washington to clean up all the WF&A floating around is mostly chimerical. All the stuff everyone can agree on has  been taken care of already. If a candidate says they’re going into government to clean it up, ask them what exactly they will do and how much that will actually save, then you’ll get a more honest picture of what they’re talking about. You see, everyone has a different idea of what actually constitutes waste or fraud or abuse.

For instance, someone from the religious right would probably say that its a waste to spend money on birth control for low income women. Of course, there are plenty of women’s health advocates who would strongly disagree.

I might argue that there are many wasteful defense projects and that it is a travesty that the Pentagon can’t even be audited because “serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense made its financial statements unauditable.” But there are probably many defense contractors who would disagree and say that military spending doesn’t need to be audited, “trust us.”

There is very little obvious waste, fraud and abuse left in the government. The WF&A that is still there is, in almost all cases, there because it is protected by powerful interest groups. And, in many respects, waste is in the eye of the beholder. One man’s sinkhole for tax dollars is another man’s valuable government service. If it was easy to find and eliminate waste in the government, someone would have done it already.