Though Rick Perry’s initial surge to a huge lead over the rest of the Republican presidential field has been whittled down in the last week, his nearest competitor still trails him by several points in every poll. Given that Romney remains a difficult sell for most conservatives and therefore a dubious pick for the party’s nod, that leaves those Republicans who either dislike or distrust Perry or believe he is a weak general election candidate in something close to a state of panic.
That’s the reason behind the revival of an effort to get Chris Christie to run. But those thumping the tub for Christie should be careful about what they wish for. Dragging Christie into the race may have the opposite effect of what his backers want, because it would only make it even more certain it will be Rick Perry who ascends the podium next year at the Republican convention in Tampa to accept the nomination.
The fear and loathing Perry seems to inspire in some Republicans is curious. It’s true he’s far from a perfect candidate. His stands on many national issues are not sophisticated. The same can be said of his speaking style. And he’s said and written some over the top things over the years about odd topics such as Texas secession that are hard to explain out of context. For some, he’s too religious as well as not enough of a policy wonk. On foreign policy, outside of his longstanding and obviously heartfelt support for Israel, his positions are something of an improvisation that has led to confusion over what he would do about the war in Afghanistan.
But unless Perry implodes on the debate stage or real scandals that are more than sniping from local critics emerge, it’s hard to see how any of this will sink his campaign. After all, though calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme may be a burden in a general election, does anyone really think his criticisms of the system will set off a stampede of conservative Republicans to Romney? Perry is the clear favorite of conservatives and Tea Partiers who like his muscular style and respond to his homey manner. Romney’s advantage over him in head-to-head polls against Obama may have convinced some Perry can’t win next year, but it is not, at least as of yet, significant enough to indicate what would really happen next November if Perry were at the head of the GOP ticket.
The odd thing about the efforts to get Christie into the race is it is hard to see how that would derail Perry. Even if the New Jersey governor were to do the unexpected and succumb to the blandishments of those flatterers who are urging him to run, it would only split the centrist and moderate Republican vote.
Though Christie has rightly earned the applause of Tea Partiers for his battles with state worker unions and their Democratic allies, in the context of a Republican primary election outside of the Northeast, he won’t come across as somebody who conservatives will see as one of their own. That will only get worse once his life and record is examined with a microscope as has already happened with those in the race. Christie’s candidacy would merely siphon votes away from Romney and ensure Perry would have an even easier path to the nomination than currently envisioned.
The problem here is many of those panicking over Perry understand Romney is not a good bet to prevail once the votes are counted in the caucuses and primaries. So it is no surprise they seek alternatives. But in doing so they may be doing Perry a favor. Those who don’t want Perry to be their standard-bearer next year may be better off jumping on Romney’s rickety bandwagon now before they do something foolish that may only guarantee his defeat.