Reports From the I-4 Corridor Part I: Rick Perry, Meet Fred Thompson and Jon Huntsman
Remember Fred Thompson’s candidacy four years ago? He was the new guy in town who sounded great, even though no one really knew him. Thompson was supposed to be the perfect spokesman for a conservative base that was left wanting by Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and John McCain. The media promised us Thompson would be a game changer who would break Rudy Giuliani’s firm grasp on the nomination. Thompson was the greatest pre-announcement candidate of the 2008 field. Unfortunately, his campaign crashed the minute he decided to take it out of the hangar. Come to think of it, his campaign was replicated on a smaller scale by Jon Huntsman this year. Huntsman’s actual candidacy hasn’t managed to gain the breathless media coverage and speculation of his slick announcement in front of the Statue of Liberty. He went from the game changer to the fat kid no one will give the ball to once conservatives found out that Huntsman makes John McCain look like a loyal conservative.
Now let’s look at Governor Rick Perry. He came into the race late with huge amounts of media coverage. He appeared to be an articulate spokesman all those dissatisfied conservatives could rally around. Now, after a disastrous straw poll in Florida and two debates where he has taken a beating for his positions on mandatory HPV vaccines and illegal immigration, it looks as if Perry isn’t the shining conservative on a hill he was supposed to be. Wait, why do I have a feeling I’ve seen this before?
Based on this past weekend in Florida, Rick Perry is primed to be this year’s Fred Thompson. Perry has yet to figure out how to address his immigration demons. First, he tried using Obama’s strategy, calling those unwilling to spend other people’s tax money to give handouts to people who shouldn’t get them “Heartless.” When that got him booed, he decided to go for the straw men and accuse conservatives of not wanting to educate illegal immigrants. Unless Perry can think of a better strategy on immigration, he’ll be hard pressed to keep conservative votes. Furthermore, Perry, much like Thompson, has seen his status as a glowing rhetorician break down. In addition to the boos Perry managed to draw in his 1960 Richard Nixon-esque performance in the debate, Perry had a weekend of PR disasters in Florida. There was his meet and greet for undecided straw poll voters where Perry barely made an appearance. The next day, he treated delegates who were willing to show up for a 9 am breakfast after a night of post-CPAC partying to a poorly delivered speech full of mispronounced words. Finally, there was his grossly illogical decision to send a surrogate to deliver a flat and monotonous final appeal to the voters before the straw poll. The straw poll this weekend has shown that Rick Perry is far from a dynamic candidate. I agree with Governor Perry’s pre-straw poll statement that the Florida straw poll is important. That said, Perry’s in trouble if after sinking all the resources he did into the straw poll, he can barely beat a candidate who showed up for the debate and left. If this past weekend is any indication, Rick Perry will be in the same company as our dear friends Fred Thompson and Jon Huntsman.