Rick Perry, Federalist
August 18, 2011
Texas Governor Rick Perry formally entered the Republican presidential primary race on Saturday.
I think the time has come for all conservatives to unite behind him.
For purposes of this discussion, I won’t distinguish between things that I think make a candidate objectively a better choice (ideology plus competence) and things that I think make a candidate more likely to be elected, because so many of these factors count for both.
I — Why unite?
We have a lot of candidates right now running for the Republican nomination—eight at the moment, and I hear rumors about at least three others who might yet join the race. Early in the race, it may be good to have a lot of candidates; it allows us, the electorate, to weigh their pros and cons, and it allows them to debate the issues and bring new ideas to the public’s attention.
Beyond a certain point, however, it’s bad to have too many candidates, for the same reason that we have primaries in the first place (to narrow a race down to two candidates for the general election): The more candidates there are, the more the winner will depend on how many similar candidates there are, rather than on what the people actually want.
Many democratic countries don’t have America’s two-party system. In France, for example, if I remember correctly, any number of candidates from any number of parties can run for president, and the winner is chosen in a run-off election between the top vote getter and the candidate who gets the second-most votes. (If I remember incorrectly, take it as an illustration anyway; the abstract principle is the same, whether France works like this or not.) So imagine the political parties along a spectrum from left to right—I agree that the “spectrum” model is problematic in some ways, but it’s useful as far as it goes—and imagine that there are two or three candidates more and less right of center, but about a dozen candidates at various points left of center: left-leaning moderates, harder leftists, and several subtle variations on Communism (a Leninist, a Trostkyite, whatever).
Imagine that the population of the country is distributed evenly along the political spectrum, and votes accordingly: Then the run-off will be between two of the right-of-center candidates. Even though half of the country is left of center, the choice in the final election is only between Mr. Right and Mr. Even Further Right—simply because the votes on the right were split among fewer candidates than the votes on the left.
Potentially, it works more or less the same way in an American primary. As a conservative, I’m tempted to see it as a good thing that so many of the candidates this cycle are so conservative—more candidates putting forth more (conservative) ideas, having a conservative conversation that will (perhaps) further normalize conservatism in the mind of the public (to the extent that anyone is listening to the conversation). Yet if we had (hypothetically) three liberal-moderate-squishy candidates, and five more or less solid conservative candidates, that would tend to make one of the moderates eventually win.
II — Why Perry?
In terms of experience, he’s top-tier. Arguably any president of the United States should first have been the governor of a state, arguably the job most similar to president. According to National Review, “by 2010 Perry already had served in office far longer than any other [Texas] governor”.
As of the debate in Iowa a week ago, there were eight candidates: Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum. Only three of them—Romney, Huntsman, and Pawlenty—had ever been a governor, and Pawlenty dropped out of the race entirely after getting third place in the Iowa straw poll this past Saturday. You can read interesting analyses of Pawlenty’s fall elsewhere—e.g., from Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online—if you’re so inclined.
In terms of policy, it appears to me that Perry is strongly conservative on just about every issue but illegal immigration. Even on that, he could be worse: About a decade ago, he did support a Texas law that gave in-state tuition at state colleges to children of illegal immigrants—reminiscent of the proposed national “DREAM Act”, which apparently may have been inspired by the Texas law in the first place—but he has since come out against the national DREAM Act, and tried to pass a law similar to Arizona’s to ban “sanctuary cities” and allow police to check people’s immigration status.
You’ll notice that with just those two criteria—experience and policy—he is already set apart as better than any of the other seven candidates. Romney did Obamacare in Massachusetts before there was an Obamacare. Huntsman supported “cap and trade”, supports “civil unions”, and has said the Obama stimulus “probably wasn’t large enough”. Bachmann and Paul are mere congressmen. I don’t think Cain has ever held any elected office. Gingrich is a former congressman with a more impressive resume than some (e.g., the significant welfare reform of the 1990s), but also an impressive record of bad choices, both on policy and personally.
I’ve been a big supporter of Rick Santorum, but it appears to me that Perry has almost all the benefits of Santorum, plus several important advantages: Perry is a governor. (Santorum is a former senator.) Though fourth in the Iowa straw poll last Saturday, Santorum is polling at about 2% nationwide—while Perry is closer to 20%. Last but not least, on perhaps the biggest issue of this election, jobs, Perry’s record is something to brag about: Politico admits, “Texas currently is the No. 1 state for job creation and accounts for more than 40 percent of the jobs generated nationally since mid-2009.”
Perry is also an outspoken advocate of federalism, the unfashionable idea that there should be checks and balances, and specifically that power should be divided between the national government and the states, as the Constitution originally provided (and as it still calls for, if anyone will listen). It’s such a prominent part of his political identity that it was the centerpiece of a National Review profile of him earlier this year (Kevin Williamson, April 4th, 2011, page 28, title on cover: “Giving Washington the Boot: Texas Governor Rick Perry’s Tenth Amendment Revival”). I think a revival of federalism would be a very good thing for the country; barring a constitutional amendment, having a pro-federalism president might be the best thing for it.
The National Review piece also notes,
People who haven’t followed Perry’s career will be surprised to learn that he’s particularly proud of Texas’s environmental record — 27 percent reduction in ozone levels, 53 percent in mono-nitrogen oxides — and that he’s suing the Environmental Protection Agency in order to defend the state’s flexible permitting rules, which he credits with improving air quality without placing unbearable burdens on business.
I think Perry should be our nominee. In the meantime, be prepared for liberals in the media and in Washington to try to smear him, both on his record and personally—though if he’s as good a politician as I hear, he may be able to take it.