The EFM Feature
Tug of War! from Flickr user Scott Ableman, used under a Creative Commons license

In discussing Gov. Perry’s recent entrance into the race, I’ve had people say to me something along the lines of the following: “Well, the question is, does Gov. Perry have a better record than Gov. Romney?” What they mean is that it’s like choosing between two new cars; you just figure out which model has more of the features you want.

The problem is, that approach doesn’t reflect reality at all.

You see, state politics is much more like a tug of war. You don’t start from zero; you instantly have a bunch of folks on the other side trying to pull you in their direction. So when you’re evaluating the quality of a leader, it doesn’t make sense just to evaluate where he ended up. You have to evaluate where the game started and who was on the other side of the rope. So when it comes to picking a president, the question isn’t whether Gov. Romney has a more or less conservative record as compared to Gov. Perry. It’s whether Gov. Romney or Gov. Perry pulled the other team in the tug of war in his state further in his direction. Why? Because what you’re asking Gov. Romney or Gov. Perry to do in Washington doesn’t occur in a vacuum either. Just like state politics, it is a tug of war, and in order to win, you don’t just need to be the most conservative candidate to win an election. You have to figure out how to pull the other side along–and I’m sure we all realize that in Washington, the left will fight any conservative president tooth and nail.

So if we follow what I’m saying is the correct approach, then what about Gov. Romney and Gov. Perry?

The situation is pretty simple. On the one hand, Gov. Perry has a much more conservative record than Gov. Romney. On the other, Texas is an extraordinarily conservative state and Massachusetts is an incredibly leftist one–more so even than most people recognize. Every step of the way, Gov. Romney faced veto-proof Democratic majorities in both chambers. For instance, in 2005, the Massachusetts Senate had 34 Democrats and six Republicans (and now there are only four). Contrast that to Texas, where Gov. Perry’s party holds a 19-12 majority. Similarly, Massachusetts is way to the left culturally; it was the first state to have a court mandate gay marriage. And on fiscal matters, Texas’ state government spends less than virtually every other per capita, whereas Massachusetts’ spends double that amount, which is among the highest nationally.

The way I’d summarize all of that is that both men pulled their states to the right, but Gov. Romney was the bigger leader. Because although Texas’ situation is certainly better in the aggregate, Gov. Perry didn’t make it that way (as Ross Douthat writes in today’s New York Times). It’s fairest to say he improved something that was already good. Gov. Romney, on the other hand, did things that absolutely flew in the face of the monolithic leftist establishment in his state, including balancing the budget without raising taxes, vetoing embryonic stem cell research, and fighting the imposition of gay marriage. In Texas, those things would have been no big deal. In Massachusetts, he infuriated the establishment. And if you look honestly at what we need our next president to do in Washington, in terms of our economy, it isn’t to improve something that’s already in fine shape–it’s to enter a tug of war in which if we don’t get our act together right away, we’re about to get pulled into the mud pit for generations.

In that tug of war, much as I respect Gov. Perry, Gov. Romney’s the guy I want on my side. He knows what it is to enter into a situation of insanity and bring about stability.

About Charles Mitchell

EFM's resident Yankee, Charles Mitchell, works in the non-profit arena in his native Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Charissa, live near the state capital of Harrisburg with their daughter, Adeline, and are members of a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America.

Comments and Discussion

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8 Responses to On Comparing Records

  1. Dennis Thompson says:

    I think you need to do a lot more research. Mitt balanced a budget. Perry has doubled spending in 10 years. He is a huge deficit spender. Mitt brought in 111 new businesses. Took his state from 50th in unemployment to 11th. In a look at Perry, since 2007 300,000 government jobs have been created. That is not conservative. Of the over 500,000 jobs, almost all are minimum wage or government jobs.

    Perry is horrible on imigration
    Romney is strong on it

    Perry is once a very liberal democrat and actually is closer to a liberal in how he has governed
    Mitt has never been liberal and his stances have reasons and i find them very conservative

    China has bought up a lot of property in texas under Perry’s governorship
    Perry has associations with acorn.

    Mitt is a Conservative and loyal family man
    Perry has many accusations of adultry ans possibl abuse

    There is no comparrioson and Rick Perry is at the best a moderate

    I do not consider this a good article at all. Very uninformed writer

  2. Vic says:

    Well written, Charles–and something I had not considered before. I’d also like to know if you or anyone can point me to a website or other references that show what the economic picture was like in each state when both men took office. What were the unemployment rates and economic condition of their states, including the status of their respective state budgets? If unemployment was already generally low, for example, but they were running high deficits–wouldn’t the primary emphasis be to first get the budget under control or vice versa? Just curious.

  3. RJPeck says:

    There are a few problems that I see in Governor Perry’s record, he has doubled the debt and doubled the spending where as Governor Romney got control of the fiscal situation in Mass.

  4. Dan says:

    Good perspective. It’s arguable that Texas has benefited more from an ultra-conservative legislature than a calculating blow-hard governor. Also, it’s likely that the 3/4 Democrat Mass. legislature would’ve done some sort of health care deal anyway, at least Mitt tried to make it less bad (using a Heritage Foundation plan btw). I disagree with the whole premise of Romneycare, but it’s not a deal-breaker for me. Mitt is the most competent and politically viable/tested option we have right now.

    The whole “moderate” accusation makes no sense to me except maybe in a relative sense. Mitt is far more conservative than John McCain.

  5. JonH says:

    Please grade me on this…..

    Perry became Gov of TX after Gov Bush and other leaders had already set success in motion. Perry came in and largely just stayed out of the way. Gov. Perry didn’t arrive with a resume of terrific economic and business experience, if he had he may have made things even better than wht actually happened. The braod experiences of Mitt Romney in each challenging venue are cridentuals that Perry has not ever developed. Thus Romney has a bag of tricks based on his experience that may be valuable at the POTUS post that Perry can’t bring to the table and never will have. Just look at the SLC Olympics. A brilliant partner from Bain Capital, Fraser Bullock was asked what he thought Mitt should do as they flew back fron SLC to Boston after accessing the Olympic sized mess and scandal. Remember this mess was hundreds of millions under water and nobody wanted to deal with it. In fact, many advised to cancel the games.

    Fraser Bullock made a simple statement: “if it were me , I wouldn’t even call them back” ( speaking of the SLC Olympic Committee). Yet, Mitt’s experience once again in turning immpossible situations around made a trendous Olympic games and a near $ 100 Million profit. Experience is everything. Comparing economies like the media and Rick Perry supporters are doing is really a mistake based on simplistic comparisons. It’s actually an invalid and deceptive measurement of talent. Rick Perry rode the successes of others before him. The best thing he did was stay out of the way of the waves of success caused mostly by others. But bless Rick for staying out of the way.

    Mitt has never been in a position to stay out of the way. As POTUS we need someone who will stand in the way of the mess with know how to fix and clean up the mess. What real know how does Rick Perry have? Where is his resume of deeds, strategies of hgh complexity and overcoming conflicts of high magnitude when the stakes were very high ? There are none for Rick Perry, he’s simply riden the wave and had a great watch. When he entered the Gov’s mansion he had a turn key system in place.

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