The 2012 Republican presidential race may be a marathon whose first stages are just being traversed. But each stage seems to be defined as much by the potential candidates who keep us waiting for their decisions as those who are running. After flirting with Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels and being teased by Sarah Palin, now we’re waiting on Texas Governor Rick Perry whom insiders have said is a 50-50 shot to throw his Stetson into the ring.
As the sitting governor of a large Republican-leaning state with a strong record, rock solid conservative principles and fundraising ability, Perry is natural presidential fodder. The Texan has Tea Party sensibilities about the size of government and appeals to religious conservatives, too. His stock was boosted by his appearance this past week at the Republican Leadership Conference in which he tore into the Obama administration. Perry’s stump speech was a hit with activists and has fueled more speculation about his willingness to run. If he does, many in the party think he will be frontrunner Mitt Romney’s leading competitor.
As for those who talk about the problems of coming into the race late, that is no reason to discount Perry’s chances. We are still seven months away from the Iowa caucuses, leaving any newcomer plenty of time to organize and fundraise, assuming they have the ability to do either.
In my view, the problem with the Perry boomlet is not money, name recognition, a ticking clock or even the idea it is still too soon after George W. Bush’s presidency for another Texas governor to run. It is whether the candidate is himself really committed to the idea. Like Daniels, who kept his party on the edge of their collective seats for months until finally deciding against running, so far Perry doesn’t seem to really want to be president. That may be, as many rightly noted after Daniels pulled out, a sign of sanity, but it is also one that demonstrates a lack of the kind of relentless determination to prevail a presidential candidate must have. The point is, if this late in the game you are still doing soul-searching about whether you want to run and whether your supporters have the ability to pull off such a massive task, then maybe you really don’t want to do it.
While Perry’s ratiocinating about running, other conservatives are busy gaining ground and organizing on the ground in key states. A sinking economy has made President Obama seem more vulnerable, and thus made the GOP nomination even more attractive. But Perry’s inability to make up his mind about a challenge isn’t the sort of thing that ought to inspire much fear for the existing field.