Despite what some political pundits would lead you to believe, the race for the Republican nomination for President is down to two people: Former Massachusetts governor (and one-time-loser) Mitt Romney, and Tea-Party-favorite-slash-Jesus-lovin’ Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Who’s going to win this nomination fight? A more important question for the Republican Party is who should win this race? The answer depends on if the current GOP hopes to continue to exist in the 21st century.
The Republican Party is at a crossroads. Formerly solid red-states are trending purple or blue due to demographic changes. The Hispanic population is growing and they’ve traditionally given the Democratic nominee about 60% of their votes. Meanwhile, public anger towards the party’s congressional behavior is at burn-this-mutha-to-the-ground levels. If the Republicans want to succeed in this brave new century, then they should really pick a candidate who cannot only beat Obama but possibly change the party’s reputation in the process. Of course to do that you have to actually ask the real question behind any nomination battle: “Which candidate is viable and which is electable?”
As detailed in my book “Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell” a viable candidate is the man or woman who can actually win their Party ’s nomination; whereas an electable candidate is the one who can actually beat the incumbent in a general election. When we turn the lens on the two GOP frontrunners, how do they stand up to the real question of the campaign?
When it comes to viability, Romney’s got some work to do. Describing his campaign thus far as timid would be generous given the outlines of Romney’s strategy.
Thus far he’s overcome attacks on “Obam-neycare” and his lack of charm by employing the ingenious I can win by not losing strategy. He’s avoided attacking anyone, including the new party entrant Perry, and seems satisfied with his plan of Skip Iowa + Win New Hampshire = Winning the nomination — even with little or no Tea Party support.
Despite this limp plan he still has a chance to take down Perry if he’s willing to go directly at the Texas governor about his policies and make the he’s not electable argument. Romney’s best shot is to portray Perry as out of touch with the mainstream, and then re-brand the party in his own image. He should be arguing to primary voters that no matter how much they love Perry, he can’t beat Obama in a general election.
Romney would do much better with independent voters than with Perry, while his business experience and demeanor seem like an antidote to what ails D.C. There is a precedent for making the electable argument, and to be honest, if he doesn’t employ this plan — barring a major screw up by Perry — his nomination chances are slim.
Then there’s Perry. Let us not mince words — this guy is not George Bush-light. He’s the real deal with no calories. As some bloggers have pointed out, it was the rich kid Bush who came to Texas and picked up a twang while clearing brush for fun to enamor himself to the locals. Perry was doing that his whole life.
Perry has jumped to the head of the pack in the Republican race, and despite a few statements this week that might annoy liberals and independents in the electorate, he’s sopping up the Tea Party and conservative love nonstop. His viability is off the scale with many prognosticators already giving him South Carolina. With his home state of Texas scheduled for Super Tuesday, Perry may be on cruise control.
Romney has never been able to galvanize the base the way Perry has, despite a four-year head start. But what about his ability to be elected? Perry’s hard-right policy stands are in a stark contrast to Obama’s. And despite the fact that there’s no love lost between the Bush camp and his former lieutenant governor, he’s awfully reminiscent of the very administration that got the nation into this economic mess — which plays right into Obama’s hands.
After Perry’s announcement, Conan O’Brien set the stage when he Tweeted, “Rick Perry is a religious, right-wing conservative who’s a former pilot and the governor of Texas. Finally! One of those!”
If the Republican Party’s leadership was full of geniuses, pollsters and seasoned academics, they’d hold their noses and push for Romney to win the nomination. He’d hold his own against Obama with frustrated independents and, he doesn’t have the Jesus-Freakness of Bachmann and Perry. He’s got a better chance of re-branding the party as more inclusive. Plus, despite his lack of flash he’s a seasoned campaigner — the Guy Smiley of Massachusetts.
Perry on the other hand is quite viable — in fact, he might be inevitably viable. But his ability to be elected is much riskier than Romney. Romney could possibly beat Obama in a close race. Perry will either beat Obama soundly or get taken out like yesterday’s McCain. With a year to go before the election, this is all dependent on factors that neither Romney nor Perry can control. Factors like: whether the economy improves; whether some national or international event happens that captivates the public in Obama’s favor; or, whether Obama regains his swerve and puts together an uber-campaign machine with a billion dollars in the engine. Until those matters are settled, the two GOP frontrunners need to concentrate on each other. It’s still a long way until Iowa.
This article originally appeared on Loop21.com uner the headline “Of GOP Frontrunners, Who’s Electable and Who’s Viable?”