The question David posed in his last post — “Why Do People Think Perry is More Conservative than Mitt?” — means something precisely because David himself is about as consistently and thoroughly conservative as anyone I’ve ever met. He’s also a principled and clear-sighted thinker. If a person as conservative and eagle-eyed as David French can love Mitt Romney, then other conservatives will too when they get past the misperceptions.
As David points out, both Romney and Perry have gone through less-conservative phases in the past (Perry actually campaigned for Al Gore, for goodness’ sake). That’s all right. I’d rather see a movement from less conservative to more, than from more to less. While Perry may seem more conservative on social security, Romney is more conservative on immigration. Both have drawn conservative fire for their health care decisions. But in terms of where they stand now, it’s not at all clear that Romney is less conservative than Rick Perry. So why the perception?
1. When conservative writers frame Romney as the establishment candidate and Perry as the hard-core conservative one, they’re doing so in collusion with the liberal mainstream media. Yet they might want to think twice about agreeing with the MSM on this point. When the MSM says that Perry is the more conservative candidate, they really mean that he’s more extreme, more scary, and more probably nuts. They mean that Perry is less refined and sophisticated, and more alien to them, more inclined to ten-gallon hats and packing heat, to folksy phrases and the hatred of women and science. In the imagination of the mainstream press, if you are more sophisticated then you must be more moderate, and if you are a rough-hewn Texan then you probably engage in militia exercises with people named Bubba and Billy-Bob.
This is insulting to Perry, Romney and the intelligence of the American voter. Perry’s kind of cultural otherness, compared to the beltway literati, does not make him any more likely than Romney to promote sound conservative policies. And Romney is the living demonstration that thoroughgoing conservatism is indeed found among men with seasoned and powerful intellects. But it’s easier to assume that the impressive Bostonian (among other places he’s lived) is a moderate — and the swaggering Texan is the real rock-ribbed conservative — than it is to acknowledge that one can be truly conservative and highly intelligent at the same time.
2. The attitudes of mainstream media liberals have brought about a curious sort of echo amongst Tea Party conservatives, who tend to see those the MSM mocks as “their” people worthy of defending at all costs. When the mainstream media scorns and belittles people like Perry — southerners or rurals, with a swagger and a drawl, old-fashioned views on evolution and creation, an overt and often overtly political Christian faith — then many social conservatives really hear the mainstream media scorning and belittling their friends and family, their fellow church members, their teachers and preachers. I’m afraid sometimes that conservatives, especially Tea Party conservatives who have endured so much slander and abuse, defend a candidate as “theirs” all the stronger the more he’s mocked and ridiculed by the media.
Just because the Left hates him does not mean we have to love him. Just because he causes the veins in their heads to explode, does not mean that he’s the guy.
Supporting Rick Perry is one way for middle America to lift a big, white, hairy middle finger in the faces of the cultural elites. If they say that the Rick Perrys of the world are racist, backward, ignorant troglodytes, then we’ll defend him come hell or high water and we’ll even subject the haters to a Rick Perry presidency. One gets the impression that Mitt Romney could attend a dinner with New York liberals and have the grace and decency and savvy to get along with them. Romney is redolent of the Northeast; can anything conservative come from Boston? But that’s not what a substantial portion of the American electorate wants right now. They want a two-fisted political brawler who offends and sneers at and stomps upon the liberal opposition. They want someone who will take out their anger vicariously upon the establishment. Sending Perry to Washington would be like sending a battleship straight into the culture war’s most contested waters. He takes all the punishment, and he returns fire with gusto, but that doesn’t mean he’d be a better President.
Perry is like Palin and Bachmann and Angle and Haley insofar as he’s a magnet for the hatred and scorn of the high priests of the Left — and thus the affection of some on the Right. What makes him different is that he could actually win the Oval Office. Fun though it is to witness the apoplexy of conservatism’s cultured despisers, however, this does not make Perry more conservative than Romney and it certainly does not make him more capable of defeating Barack Obama.
We need to be laser-focused on two questions right now. Who can win the election? And who will make the best President? To my mind, Romney is the obvious answer to both questions. In fact, I think we’re extraordinarily fortunate to have a candidate with his unique set of skills and experiences at precisely the time when we need to accomplish the most dramatic turnaround this country has seen in generations.