Perry driving in right hand lane to recovery

Ed Kilgore:
By any conventional standard, Rick Perry’s presidential candidacy should be a bad memory by now. From roughly mid-September to mid-October, he had about as bad a month as a candidate could have. He was consistently hesitant, defensive, and inarticulate in a series of high-profile candidate debates. But more importantly, he gave deep offense to conservatives by continuing to support a Texas program providing in-state college tuition rates for the children of illegal immigrants. His timing was terrible, too: Perry’s slide began soon after his announcement but not long before actual voting begins—i.e., when the Republican rank-and-file in early states begin to focus on the candidate field and form strong impressions. Perry’s decline, of course, can be charted in the national polls, which show him free-falling from a strong frontrunner position to single digits in just over the span of a month.
But Perry may still yet emerge as the Viable Conservative Alternative to Mitt Romney. He might have failed his first audition for that role with the conservative wing of the GOP, but he still has an eminently viable path to recovery, one that he already appears to be employing with zeal: moving even further to the right.
It’s possible to talk about a Perry comeback for three simple reasons. First, he has lots of money, which can cover a multitude of political sins. Second, the presumptive, albeit uninspiring, frontrunner, Mitt Romney, is not about to run away with the race because, to put it bluntly, hard-core conservative voters don’t like or trust him. And third, the other candidates are either damaged goods (Gingrich), classic marginal figures (Bachmann, Santorum and Paul) or Herman Cain, who seems to be trying pretty hard to vindicate predictions that he is a flash-in-the-pan. So Perry will get another look from Republicans. The question is whether he will do a better job this time around at convincing true believers of his unshakable conservative convictions.
His main priority, therefore, has been to ensure that conservatives have something substantive to associate him with other than his terrible positioning on immigration. After initially focusing on his support for massive and unrestrained energy development, which is the closest thing to a short-range “jobs program” today’s conservatives can support, Perry has now laid out a tax-and-spending plan that efficiently pushes an awful lot of right-wing buttons. His “flat tax” proposal is a fraud in that its key features are optional, but for that very reason it is nicely designed to avoid the kind of criticism attracted by Cain’s steadily unraveling 9-9-9 plan. The spending side of Perry’s package, meanwhile—which is heavily focused on the idea of permanently shrinking the federal government via a balanced budget constitutional amendment—is draconian enough to satisfy even the most extreme fiscal conservative. A BBA with spending restrictions also happens to be the pet idea of South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, a key national leader of movement conservatives whose home state could play a critical role in the 2012 nominating process.
Perry is also sharpening his attacks on Romney.  I think his move to get back on the campaign trail and not get tied up in weekly debates is probably a smart move.  The debates were not helping him, and the criticism he gets for not being there probably could not be much worse than the criticism of his performances.  Besides he can respond to those criticisms at length and not be limited to one minute sound bites.

Perry needs to avoid distractions like the birther business.  He needs to get on message and not let the media or the other candidates pull him off.


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