I was never quite sold on the notion, pushed in 1999 and 2000 by DC stenographers parroting what they were told by the (very skilled) Bush press operation, that America had “Clinton fatigue.” When Bill Clinton left office he was quite popular, and has remained so to this day. But George W Bush left office unpopular, and while polling has showed feelings about him personally may have lost some intensity, Americans put more blame on him than Barack Obama for our economic problems, and the disgust with his party is at record levels. It’s hard not to conclude that Americans feel a bit of Bush fatigue.
Don’t expect Texas governor Rick Perry to turn things around for the Republicans. Perry has never been a particularly strong candidate, but as Ed Kilgore explains, he’s well positioned to win the Republican nomination:
In keeping with the extraordinary timing that has charmed his entire political career, Rick Perry seems to perfectly embody the Republican zeitgeist of the moment, appealing equally to the GOP’s Tea Party, Christian Right, and establishment factions while exemplifying the militant anti-Obama attitude that holds it all together. He offers the Republican Party an opportunity for unity at a time when his only rival in this respect is the underwhelming Tim Pawlenty, whose once-promising campaign could quite possibly expire this next weekend in the heat and noise of the GOP straw poll in Ames, Iowa. And unlike T-Paw, Perry has the ability to forcefully project the talking-points of various GOP factions in a way that seems authentic, no matter how often he contradicts himself. It’s a rare gift, possessed by his one-time boss George W. Bush, and even more famously by–though the comparison may seem blasphemous–Ronald Reagan himself.
Unfortunately for the Republican party, what makes Perry a formidable primary candidate may very well make him a disastrous general election candidate. Let me explain by starting with a picture:
Americans are tolerant, but they have biases and prejudices. George W Bush was able to transcend the negative associations some people have with Texas or the Deep South–I know, they’re not the same, but much of America has biases against both–in part because he was a wannabe Texan, and because of residual goodwill accrued by his New England WASPy parents, in particular Barbara Bush, who didn’t project a particularly strong Texan image. But with the brush cutting and empty bravado, the unvarnished muscular evangelicalism and the caricatured Texan ethos of “wid us or ag’in us” acted out by George W Bush probably caused Americans to come down with a case of Texas fatigue.
The photo above–of Perry singing in to law a restriction on abortions–reinforces what many Americans mock or dislike about Texas. Houston is a polyglot, cosmopolitan place with immigrants from all over the world. Austinites lovingly work to keep Austin weird. San Antonio is a Latino metropolis. But if you want to take a visual cheap shot at Texans and conger up notions of bombast, arrogance, reactionary social views and aggressively enforced white privilege, you find a picture of an old white guy looking ridiculous in a big cowboy hat. Even in the Texas GOP the reality of race, cultural mores and class are much more complex than that; as Kilgore notes, Perry’s strayed from Tea Party-esque orthodox by being fairly moderate on immigration, and unlike the Pete Wilson-destroyed California GOP, in Texas Republicans have done a fairly effective job of reaching out to Latinos.
But ingrained perceptions are hard to overcome, and should he become the Republican nominee, just about everything about Rick Perry–his record, his presence, his accent, his base of support, even–unfairly for Texans–his intellectual and academic mediocrity–will reinforce the negative perceptions that many Americans, especially those in swing states like Colorado, New Hampshire and much of the Midwest, already have about Texans. Rick Perry will remind people of much of what they disliked about George W Bush, and Barbara Bush won’t be around to soften that image for Perry.
As I ponder the Republican presidential field, I still can’t fully accept that the eventual nominee will be either Rick Perry or the candidates who were on the stage at last night’s debate in Iowa. But there doesn’t seem to be anyone who can save the Republican party from choosing a horrible candidate, so why shouldn’t it be someone who would certainly get the vote of Yosemite Sam?