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.