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Does Perry’s “Toughness” Give Him an Edge?

President Obama has earned a reputation as lacking toughness. His liberal base, manifestly unwilling to confront or criticize America’s enemies, would say this is by design–the mark of an enlightened global citizen. But the reputation exists whether by accident or intent.

Rick Perry, on the other hand, has a reputation much the opposite, which has given rise to the new Twitter account @RickPerryFacts. Christian Heinze at The Hill offers some of his favorites tweets from the account:

The Roman Empire didn’t fall, Rick Perry tripped it.

Rick Perry can hold his breath for an entire Yanni concert.

Rick Perry’s calendar skips straight from March 31 to April 2. Nobody fools Rick Perry.

Rick Perry can kill two stones with one bird.

Here are some of my favorites from the Twitter feed:

Rick Perry can give bees and peanuts anaphylactic shock.

Sharks have a week dedicated to Rick Perry.

Rick Perry has never lost a sock in the dryer. Ever.

All of Rick Perry’s genes are dominant.

You get the point. But all this fun has a serious side, namely: Perry has made an indelible impression on enough voters to encourage this sort of thing. But will Perry’s reputation for toughness help him if he chooses to run for president?

The perception of “toughness” by voters is generally an emotional response, and it’s not as easy to transmit as one might think. For example, Herman Cain’s declaration that towns somehow can ban mosques was not viewed by voters as a “tough” stand on the issue, it was interpreted as wacky and offensive. Another question is: Does it pay to be tough? That is, should voters prefer to have a tough guy as president? Believe it or not, there is some scientific research on the subject, and the findings will delight Perry’s fans.

In 2001, researchers from the California Institute of Technology and the School of Economics at Tel Aviv University studied the science behind symmetric and asymmetric bargaining games. They concluded that when “the inherent toughness of the bargainer is observed by the opponent, this opponent will adjust his behavior accordingly, in a way which may enhance the actual payoff of the biased bargainer,” and that there may be an evolutionary element to “toughness.”

In any event, Perry isn’t shying away from it, and has even given some indication he would favor a muscular foreign policy, perhaps reinforcing the reputation. Katrina Trinko reports Perry met with former Bush administration foreign policy experts, including Douglas Feith, who was undersecretary of defense for policy as the administration was forming its response to the 9/11 attacks. (Feith was also one of the original targets when the Left began using the term “neocon” to mean “nefarious Jewish warmonger with divided loyalties.”)

Also important for Perry is that none of the current Republican candidates possess a reputation for toughness–they may have it, but there isn’t an immediate association in voters’ minds.

One thing to remember, though, is that the 2012 election, much like the 2008 election, is shaping up to be anything but a national security referendum. That may help Obama if he runs against a candidate who counts toughness as being among his chief virtues. But if the unemployment rate doesn’t drop and the economy doesn’t experience real movement in the right direction, the man who ordered the successful operation against Osama bin Laden will be wishing the election was about foreign policy.


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