Given the fact the two heaviest hitters in the Republican presidential race are probably going to be slugging it out until late spring next year, there’s every likelihood the confrontation between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry is going to get nasty. But for those who can’t wait until the mud starts flying for real, Politico gives us a preview of the imminent Romney-Perry smackdown today. According to author Maggie Haberman, it’s already “personal” between the two.
The origins of this grudge supposedly date back to a 2006 dispute. But the article’s main assertion has less to do with Perry’s capacity for holding a grudge than it does with the idea that virtually everyone at the highest levels of the GOP thinks Romney is a phony. Which leads me to wonder whether talk of a genuine feud between Romney and Perry is more hype than reality.
It may well be Perry and his camp are still upset about Romney’s decision when he was the head of the Republican Governor’s Association to hire Alex Castellanos, a political campaign consultant who was also working for an independent running against the Texas governor that year. And Perry may also resent the idea repeated in the article that Romney thinks he’s stupid. Yet the personal animus factor in the race may be more the widespread notion Romney is disliked and distrusted by most GOP politicians. The scuttlebutt from the 2008 Republican debates and primaries was Romney and his staff held themselves aloof from the other campaigns, and the former Massachusetts governor was incorrigibly insincere.
Romney’s behavior has been noticeably more relaxed and confident this time around than it was four years ago, but these perceptions are hard to shake. This is especially so true for Romney, because he has a documented history of flip-flopping on some issues.
There’s no question Perry and Romney are as different as can be in terms of background, personality and their style of campaigning and governing. With so much at stake it would be surprising if a long, hard campaign such as this one didn’t lead eventually lead to hard feelings. But it strikes me, the focus on the “Romney is a phony” story line here may not tell us much about how this race will develop.
For all of his faults, Romney is by now a known quantity. What we don’t know heading into 2012 is just how well Perry will weather the incredible strain a presidential run can put on a man. Perry has parachuted into the race and found himself anointed the frontrunner almost immediately. Rather than worry about Romney’s little rich boy syndrome, we need to see whether Perry follows up his gaffe in which he accused Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke of “treason” with more of the same or if he is able to exhibit some grace under pressure.
With the exit of Tim Pawlenty from the GOP contest, journalists have been deprived of the grudge match that had developed between him and Minnesota rival Michele Bachmann. If Romney and Perry were to equal or surpass the enmity those two exhibited, it would be a godsend to writers about politics. But it’s entirely possible the talk of a feud between the two is the real phony in the race. Astute observers should worry less about their feelings about each other and more about whether Perry can avoid mistakes that could erase the gains he has made in the last two weeks.