The EFM Feature
Rick Perry

As it increasingly looks like we’re on the verge of Rick Perry entering the race, it’s worth remembering that there’s nothing new under the sun.  In 2007, with the buzz about Fred Thompson reaching a fever pitch, I wrote a post on the life cycle of the Thompson campaign.  Really, it was about insurgent or “new” candidates in general, and it provides the right lens for analyzing Perry’s upcoming efforts.  Here it is, in full (with appropriate edits), and read with an eye towards 2012:


Politics follow patterns — patterns sometimes as predictable as the rising and setting of the sun. Since the advent of the out-of-nowhere primary candidate, we’ve now seen that the press and political establishment, once surprised by the rise of the “outsider” has now completely assimilated the process into the machinery of opinion-making and reporting. And so, EFM readers, here is the life cycle of the outsider candidate:

(1) OUT OF NOWHERE, OUR HERO EMERGES! This is where smart political commentators and reporters can play kingmaker. An attractive unknown candidate sparks their interest, and the insiders start building the buzz. A modest wave of positive reporting builds into something more substantial. Bill Clinton goes from the nobody from Arkansas who gave the most boring convention introduction in history to a centrist innovator who revolutionized education in Arkansas (he took the state from a weak 50th to a strong 50th in the national rankings!) Howard Dean goes from the rich man’s Dennis Kucinich to the “only credible candidate who speaks for the left.” On the Republican side, we saw this with early cover stories about Governor Romney in National Review and the Weekly Standard. All the smart money had the Governor as one of the leading candidates. This is where Fred Ricky Perry is now. Out of nowhere, the hero has emerged. No one was talking about Fred Thompson Ricky Perry one year ago; now our activists are all a-flutter. But, sadly, phase 1 is all too short. Next comes . . .

(2) HERO? HE AIN’T NO STINKIN’ HERO! What the media builds up, the media tears down. It’s tough to be the hero. We all have our flaws, and it is just so much more fun for media folks to tear down a hero than it is to tear down a nobody. Hero Gary Hart becomes Philandering Gary Hart, Hero Bill Clinton becomes Philandering Bill Clinton, and Hero Howard Dean becomes “too liberal to win” Howard Dean. On the Republican side, “Matinee Mitt” came under sustained attack in the winter as an alleged “flip-flopper,” an attack that continues to this day. Fred Governor Perry is just about to move into this phase. His halcyon days are about to end. He may stumble at a debate or unknown biographical details may emerge. While I’m not sure how he’ll enter this second phase, I know that he will. All of this is predictable, but what isn’t predictable is the outcome of Phase 3 . . .

(3) THE RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD. Here’s where presidents are made. Gary Hart slinks off the scene, Dean screams, but Clinton bites his lip on 60 Minutes (adoring wife at his side), builds a ruthlessly efficient political machine, and coasts to victory. Governor Romney answered his tough months with $23 million dollars in fundraising, three strong debate performances, and surging poll numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire. Yet we won’t know for months whether this strong response will ultimately be enough. And we don’t know if Fred Governor Perry can or will bounce back from his inevitable backlash. Will he build the infrastructure and raise the funds to circumvent the fickle media (including the fickle conservative media)? At the moment, that doesn’t seem to be his strategy, and if he neglects the hard work of retail politics for the allure of a pure “new media” candidacy, he’s toast.  [Editor's note: I have no doubt that Governor Perry will build the infrastructure and raise the necessary funds . . . but as we no know, Fred Thompson could not.]

The transition from stage 2 to stage 3 will tell all of us whether there will be a President Romney or a President Thompson Perry, and so far — amongst all of the Republicans — Mitt has spent the most time and made the most efforts in this dispositive phase.






Comments and Discussion

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4 Responses to The Life Cycle of A Conservative Insurgent Candidate

  1. Matt says:

    It is remarkable just how well Gov Perry’s name fit into your post on Fred in 2007. Yes, there are unknowns about him, but it seems that he is the guy that the conservative media/insiders love right now. And, as I emailed you earlier this week, he also seems to be the guy the Evangelicals uninterested in a Pres Romney love as well. I just hope, hope, hope that Perry doesn’t resort to religion baiting as our friend the Huck did so well. I also wonder how Perry might compete w/ Bachmann for the same conservative votes, thus strengthening Romney in the process. The next several months should be very interesting, indeed.

  2. Jim Tills says:

    Governor Perry is a skilled politician who has won reelection several times. He’s popular in Texas but has several flaws that the Democrats will pounce on if he gains the nomination. Because the Dems fear Romney the most, it is doubtful they will “take Perry down” until after the nomination process is nearing completion.

    The flaws that Romney has are few. Most of the scuttlebutt negativity on him is deliberately false smear-tactic rhetoric magnified by a leftist press and competitor repeating of previous error-filled falsehoods. If anyone can lead our Nation back from the brink, it is and will be Romney. My only fear is that the problems will become so great by the time he could be elected President, that no-one can turn the tragic situation around. Perry certainly will not be able to do so, nor Bachman, nor Paul. Romney along with our prayers to God are the only solution.

  3. Stan says:

    Matt and Jim I liked your comments and agree fully with both of you. Nothing negative is going to said by the Romney folks about Rick Perry or in fact any of the other candidates. Mitt is following the Ronald Reagan rule: Thou shalt not say anything bad about another Republican. Apparently, the others are not following that rule but I hope Perry will follow that rule. I hope they stick to issues, especially against Obama, and see which Republican candidate can go toe to toe with the president.

  4. Paul says:

    The following may be Perry’s downfall, which surprisingly I haven’t heard hardly anyone mention. It turns out Perry’s first 6 years in politics were as a DEMOCRAT. He was even Al Gore’s campaign coordinator in Texas. So far, Perry has gotten a free pass from the media, unlike Romney, whose so-called flip-flops are insignificant in comparison.

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