—by Bob Beatty, 12/1/2011
This is the sixth in a series of profiles of the 2012 presidential candidates, based on first-hand observation of campaign events and personal interviews. The Kansas Republican presidential caucus is March 10; the Kansas Democrats will hold their presidential caucus April 14.
In 2007, some conservative Republican activists, dissatisfied with the field of presidential candidates, strongly encouraged former U.S. Senator and TV actor Fred Thompson to enter the race. Thompson, hoping to be the conservative alternative to candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney, began his campaign late, but with a big splash, only a few months before the Iowa caucus. The excitement faded quickly, however, as his uninspiring, near somnambulant campaigning style eroded his early support. By January of 2008, he dropped out, not having won one primary or caucus.
Is Rick Perry destined to be the Fred Thompson of 2012?
Perry has fallen, Thompson-like, from the top tier of presidential candidates, but given his strengths among likely Republican voters, it is not impossible to imagine them giving him a second look. Also, Perry has raised close to $20 million and can easily afford TV advertising in the early voting states to trumpet those strengths.
One Perry campaign strength is his economic record. Texas gained more than one million net jobs in the ten years he has led the state as governor. Critics have noted that many of those jobs are minimum wage or below positions, but it is still a claim no other candidate can make. His economic ideas are popular among many conservatives: Put in a flat tax, cut government regulations, reform the EPA, drill for American-based energy, and stop deficit spending. One of Perry’s lines from the campaign trail is, “As president, if you send me a piece of legislation that spends more than what we’re bringing in, I will veto it. And it will be with something as magnificent as a Sharpie pen!”
Another campaign strength, especially among evangelical voters—who will be important in early states such as Iowa and South Carolina—is his willingness to discuss his faith and religiosity openly, a trait I witnessed first-hand in Des Moines, Iowa. Perry told the crowd, “When it comes to faith, it is the core of who I am. It is an essential act for me, as much as breathing. I wish I could say I came to faith by virtue, but in reality it was a struggle…I found the true source of hope and change, and that is a loving God who changes hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.” Perry briefly choked up with emotion upon saying this, and it seemed to have a strong effect on the audience, made up of many likely Iowa caucus goers.
Perry ties his faith to his strong conservative stands on social issues. He told that same crowd in Des Moines, “Being pro-life is not a matter of campaign convenience, it is a core conviction. And that includes the protection of embryonic stem cells…It is a liberal canard to say, ‘I am personally pro-life, but government should stay out of that decision.’ If that is your view, you are not pro-life. You are pro ‘having your cake and eating it too.’”
However, for a Perry comeback to occur, voters will need to have some faith of their own - faith that the Rick Perry who has stumbled so badly in several televised debates would not do so as their nominee in the general election against Barack Obama.
Perry recognizes this, saying, “In God’s eyes, we are not disqualified by our imperfections. Because we are weak, and He is strong. That’s the good news; we are not called to be perfect. And if you have watched my debate performances, you know I am far from perfect.”
If Rick Perry is to avoid being the 2012 version of Fred Thompson, he may not have to be perfect, but in the upcoming televised debates in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida, he will have to be pretty darn close.
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—by Bob Beatty, 10/27/2011
This is the fifth in a series of profiles of the 2012 presidential candidates, based on first-hand observation of campaign events and personal interviews. The Kansas Republican presidential caucus is March 10; the Kansas Democrats will hold their presidential caucus April 14.
This column profiling a presidential candidate was supposed to be about Rick Perry. It is not, as the GOP presidential race has been hit with a sudden case of Herman Cain. To wit: the September CBS News nationwide poll of Republicans had Perry on top at 23% and Cain near the bottom with 5%. Now? The October poll shows Cain at 25% and Perry at 6%. To find out more about this new phenomenon in the race, I went to Des Moines, Iowa for the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Presidential Forum, where Cain and five other candidates spoke to over 1,000 Iowa Republican activists.
One key to understanding the appeal of the 65-year old, African-American former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza is that he is an excellent public speaker. With a background that includes performing on a recording as a gospel vocalist, hosting a radio talk show, and working as a paid motivational speaker for conservative advocacy groups, this is not surprising. But it is a true asset. Strikingly, in American politics, effective public speaking skills among top tier candidates are relatively rare. As John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama found out when they ran for president, it’s a talent that can be used to inspire, convince, and command attention.
Herman Cain can grab an audience’s attention, and the message he has for GOP audiences is one that many Republicans want to hear: That this election is about regaining freedom, not from outside forces but from within, and that Barack Obama has ruined the country. In Des Moines, Cain began his remarks by referencing a Republican icon, saying “It was Ronald Reagan who reminded us how fragile this thing called freedom is,” and ended in a similar fashion, imploring that “In 2012, it is our responsibility to honor the memory of Ronald Reagan (and) take that shining city on the hill to the top of the hill where it belongs.”
Cain seems to be at his best - or at least most serious - when he glosses over how he will get things done and concentrates on what he wants done. The crowd responded well to Cain’s various policy proposals, including his call for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, outlawing abortion across the country, making the U.S. energy independent, and, as he says, “throwing out the current tax code and put in the bold plan called 9-9-9 to get this economy growing.” (Note: The 9-9-9 system would replace the current tax codes with 9% national sales tax and 9% tax rates on corporations and individuals).
GOP crowds have responded favorably to the how in Cain’s policy proposals – drawing a big audience reaction a few weeks ago when he said he’d stop illegal immigration by putting in a people-killing electric fence on the border, and at the IFFC forum the audience cheered when he said he would achieve energy independence by giving the EPA an “attitude adjustment” – but many caucus and primary voters, although impressed by the man, will likely need convincing that Cain can not only inspire voters, but also move legislators in the House and Senate to pass his actual proposals. Unlike the aforementioned Kennedy, Reagan, and Obama, Cain is running for the presidency with no actual experience in elected office.
This summer in Iowa fellow GOP candidate Mitt Romney argued that Americans “experimented” by picking Barack Obama as president. The question for Republicans this election may be whether they want to follow the lead of the Democrats in 2008 and try the Herman Cain experiment.Return to top of page
—by Bob Beatty, 9/22/2011
This is the fourth in a series of profiles of the 2012 presidential candidates, based on first-hand observation of campaign events and personal interviews. The Kansas Republican presidential caucus is March 10; the Kansas Democrats will hold their presidential caucus April 14.
It was another fascinating moment on the presidential campaign trail. A man in Des Moines stood up and asked Mitt Romney, who ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination in 2008, why he was a better candidate this time around. Romney said, in effect, that he hadn’t changed, but he’s more appealing now because of the economic downturn. Said Romney, “I’m the same guy I was last time, it’s just that the things I know are needed even more now.”
In 2008 Romney ran as a businessman-turned politician who knew how to deal with complicated economic matters and would apply his business background to running the federal government. The problem was that this background included being a politician in liberal Massachusetts, where as a U.S. Senate candidate and as Governor he had expressed moderate views on red-meat conservative issues such as abortion, gay rights, and government-mandated health care. His “conversion” to the conservative cause on those and other issues made him suspect and he ended up losing the Iowa caucus to Mike Huckabee, the New Hampshire primary to John McCain, and falling well short of the GOP nomination.
Romney is betting that Republican voters will trust him this time around on social issues and allow him to talk economics. “Right now the number one issue in America is the economy,” he says. “The issue that Americans are most concerned about happens to be in my wheelhouse. People are hurting. The economy needs to be turned around. That’s where I have expertise….That’s the sort of stuff I do and know.”
The subtext to Romney’s 2008 redux is the implication weren’t very smart four years ago. Says Romney, “Putting Barack Obama in charge reminds me of that song ‘Lucille.’ Well, we picked a fine time to pick someone with no experience in negotiation, business, or leadership, with the economy going down and tumult in the world.” Romney argues that Americans “experimented” by picking Obama, and it “didn’t work out so well.”
According to Romney, Obama’s weaknesses are Romney’s strengths. He argues that the economy is dismal because Obama’s policies have created uncertainty in the employment sector, saying, “I’ve spent most of my life in the private sector, I know we can always handle bad news, but not uncertainty.” He asserts that it’s time to have a president who “knows how the economy works” and that “I have the experience to get America back to work.”
Romney’s campaign is also anchored in the proposition that not only are President Obama’s policies wrong, but “un-American.” “Why is the President so misguided?” he aks. “Because he gets inspiration from his European friends. I believe in America. We got it right and they got it wrong. I believe in the American experiment, not in Europe. I do not think the President should go around apologizing for America. I believe in the greatness of the American people.”
Romney’s approach leaves many Republican primary and caucus voters in a bit of a quandary. His argument that the poor economy makes him the logical choice this time around has some electoral validity. But in the past few weeks a new Obama has emerged, one more combative and passionate than at any time since taking office. Obama is now making specific proposals on tax credits, tax increases, elimination of corporate tax loopholes, debt reduction, infrastructure repair, and Medicare and Medicaid reform. Romney has criticized Obama for not focusing on the economy and instead honing in on “cap and trade, unions, Obamacare, and financial reform that hurts businesses.” In the upcoming election year Obama will work very hard to refute that claim.
In short, while Romney is little altered over the last four years, GOP voters are considering whether his message now is sufficient not only for a changed economic situation, but also an economically focused – and more formidable – Obama.Return to top of page
—by Bob Beatty, 8/18/2011
This is the third in a series of profiles of the 2012 presidential candidates, based on first-hand observation of campaign events and personal interviews. The Kansas Republican presidential caucus is March 10; the Kansas Democrats will hold their presidential caucus April 14.
Michele Bachmann is an impressive retail politician. Save for Teddy Roosevelt, I doubt any presidential candidate has ever brought this much energy to campaigning.
All the other Republican candidates for president have followed the same rough format on the stump in Iowa. From the well-known (Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty and Ron Paul) to the unknown (Rick Santorum, Gary Johnson, Herman Cain), they appear and give short (and hopefully, compelling) remarks, and then take questions from the crowd and the press.
Michele Bachmann is different. The Minnesota congresswoman campaigns like a rock star, storming onstage with music blaring, letting forth an impassioned speech, and then meeting the throngs that appear around her afterwards, attempting to hug every child, pose for every photo, and sign every autograph she can. She does the small, subtle things that help her connect to people, such as spotting the shy supporter on the fringes of the crowd and asking, “Should we do a picture?” and whispering conspiratorially to a 12-year old a joke while Mom struggles with the camera.
The cue for Bachmann to descend from her enormous campaign bus is the sound of Elvis Presley singing Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land.” Sometimes she will grab her husband Marcus’ hand and jitterbug on stage until Elvis finishes his last line, “Tell the folks back home this is the promised land calling and the poor boy is on the line.”
She is, quite simply, the best campaigner in the GOP field, and given her recent victory in the Iowa Straw Poll, it’s paying dividends.
In the multiple Bachmann appearances I attended in Iowa, she did not take questions nor provide deep analytical details on most subjects, but it’s still possible to get a sense of her candidacy from her remarks.
She considers herself a “fighter” for conservative causes, someone who is tough enough to take on President Obama and then, once in the White House, she says, “Get ‘er done!” Get what done, in particular? She mentions – actually, passionately proclaims - two things: Repeal the Health Reform Act, and cut government spending. “So much of the spending is just silly!” she exclaims often
She is confident of success. She told an audience in Pella, Iowa, “Solving these problems is really not that hard…What we need is leadership. Then the good times can come back. We just need someone with the willingness and will to get it done.”
Bachmann’s main theme is that she is the leader of a conservative movement that has at its base “family values and traditional moral values.” She highlights that she stands for “life from conception until death and marriage between one man and one woman.” God and religion play a large part in her message. “We will never be ashamed of being social conservatives…We understand that religious liberty is the essence and the foothold of this nation and we should never be ashamed or afraid of the faith that this nation was founded upon,” she says.
Bachmann has found success so far as a social conservative leader, but she wants to expand her appeal to fiscal conservatives and national security conservatives. For fiscal conservatives, she cites her experience as a “federal tax lawyer,” (she worked for the I.R.S.) and small businesswoman. Regarding national security she notes her time on the House Select Committee on Intelligence, This marriage of social, fiscal, and national security conservatives is, in her words, a “movement that can’t be beat.”
Michele Bachmann’s greatest strength in the crowded GOP presidential field may be her charisma, energy, optimism, and willingness to stridently oppose Barack Obama, passionately and with a smile. Like Obama in 2008, she’s a lawyer with enough experience in political office (ten years) to make her appealing to those in her party who are tired of the same old faces and the same old style.Return to top of page