With Rick Perry moving into a lead for the GOP nomination, there are some conservatives who recognize that his nomination could be a disaster of Goldwater-proportions. Joe Scarborough says there is “No way” Perry could beat Obama. Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review has a realistic column for Bloomberg arguing that Obama’s weakness is leading to Republican overreach, making it hard for Republicans to win in a general election. Ponnuru wrote:
Already the Republican primaries have seen candidates take positions that will be hard sells in the fall of next year. Both Bachmann and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, for example, want to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency. Polls suggest that while the public doesn’t consider environmental protection its top priority right now, it favors regulation and trusts Democrats over Republicans on the issue. Texas Governor Rick Perry has suggested that Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional and that they should be replaced by state-run programs. There’s a reason no Republican candidate since 1964 has run on a platform anything like this one on entitlements: Both programs are extremely popular.
Perry has also suggested that he disapproves of the New Deal, seeing it as a moment when the federal government began to exceed the constitutional limits of its power. He hasn’t said he wants to undo the New Deal, but it’s not out of bounds for Democrats to make the charge, given the importance he attaches to constitutionalism.
In each of these cases, provocative positions have been met by silence from rival candidates. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney hasn’t come out in favor of abolishing the EPA or getting rid of federal entitlement programs, but he hasn’t denounced these ideas or even used them as an argument against the electability of the candidates who have advanced them. Evidently he believes either that the primary electorate doesn’t think these positions are politically toxic, or that it doesn’t consider electability a key concern.
If Republican voters had electability on their minds, they would also want to see the candidates address issues that concern the broader public: how to get wages growing again after years when they stagnated even during periods of growth; and what to replace Obama’s health-care reform with. But the candidates feel no pressure from primary voters to outline plans on those issues, and haven’t done so. Instead, they are focused on issues — such as the alleged threat of “sharia law” and the heavy share of income taxes paid by the rich — that are of interest only to the party faithful.
Ponnuru prefaced this discussion by a discussion of Obama’s difficulties in getting reelected, and hopefully underestimated Obama’s political skills:
Obama has never had to demonstrate great political skill in his general-election races. During both of them, he was blessed with good luck (a fringy opponent in his Senate race, and a collapsing economy during his presidential run).
To limit the discussion to general-election races ignores a major achievement in defeating Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Although the economic situation made it difficult for a Republican to win in 20o8 (while giving Republicans an edge in 2012 due to the short memories of American voters), Obama still did run an excellent general election campaign. On the other hand, the manner in which the Republicans won the spin wars over health care reform and the stimulus after Obama took office do leave cause for concern. Obama’s chances are helped considerably due to his potential opponents being bat-shit crazy. He might also be helped by falling in the polls now, forcing him to campaign more as he did before be was elected.