It’s never a bad time to construct a counterfactual.
What if Rick Perry had never said, “Oops”? What if he could have, for Christ’s sake, just remembered that he had wanted to gut the Department of Energy? What if he hadn’t climbed into a tan coat and Brett Favre jeans and released that abominable Youtube video — you know, the gay one.
In other words, what if Rick Perry hadn’t been Rick Perry? If Rick Perry wasn’t Rick Perry, then Rick Perry would have been a pretty strong Republican presidential nominee. Way stronger than Mitt Romney.
Here’s why: Texas — and Houston in particular — is dominating right now. Americans at their core care about few things. The economy, jobs, and the housing market. It’s that simple. They don’t want to lose their jobs, or their home’s price to dissolve into the mist.
And if that’s the barometer, Perry would have had some staggering statistics to brandish. Texas added 12,500 non-farm jobs in May, the Texas Workforce Commission reported last week. It was the 22nd straight month of growth. What’s more, the state has added nearly 290,000 private sector jobs. This, while the U.S. unemployment rate languishes at 8.2 percent. Texas’ rate, meanwhile, hovers in the mid-6s.
So what does all that mean? It means that Perry — for all his failings — is in possession of one formidable record of enabling job growth during a time of malaise and tepid economic recovery.
It also means: Thank Allah Rick Perry is Rick Perry. And he’s not in this race.
No question, Texas’ unemployment rate and record of job growth is what made Rick Perry look like a formidable candidate on paper a year ago. You know how it went from there – insert your favorite sports cliche about why they play the games instead of deciding the winner subjectively. As much fun as it is to write alternate histories, there are two things to keep in mind here.
1. Sure, Perry was a knucklehead who stuck his foot in his mouth with regularity, but his “Oops” moment didn’t kill his campaign by itself. Perry had come under vicious attack in the primary for his HPV directive – one of the very few decent things he has done as Governor, though of course it was done for the purpose of enriching a crony – and for his 2001 signing of a state level DREAM Act, which granted in state tuition rates to public universities to the children of undocumented immigrants. In fact, it was his “have a heart” comment in response to criticism of this law that was the start of Perry’s downward spiral. Point being, even candidates who look strong on paper have vulnerabilities that will be exploited, and their strength in one area may not help them against attacks in another.
2. One result of Perry’s swift, gaffe-abetted implosion is that the job creation record that was the centerpiece of his candidacy never really got poked and prodded by his Republican rivals, and it was light years away from being addressed by President Obama’s campaign. There’s plenty to attack about his ecenomic record – many of the jobs that were created are low wage/low skill; much of Texas’ growth has been fueled by immigration; the tools Perry has had at his disposal to lure businesses to Texas – the Texas Enterprise Fund and Texas Emerging Technology Fund – are rife with cronyism and unmet job creation metrics, and even if they weren’t it’s not like this kind of zero-sum strategy translates to the national level; Texas’ consistently low levels of educational achievement portend future economic disaster, and Perry’s response to this was to push for historic cuts in public education funding. And so on and so forth; I’m sure there would be more, probably including some things we’re not familiar with.
Now maybe these things would resonate with a general election audience, and maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe Perry would have a strong counter-argument to them, or would be able to divert attention from them by making successful attacks of his own. We’ll never know. My point here is that everyone looks good on paper until the other side gets to have a say about it. Perry was gone from the race long before Team Obama ever got to ask the rest of the country if they wanted to be more like Texas or not, much as they’ve been framing Mitt Romney’s time at Bain Capital as something less than desirable. If it had become clear that Perry would have been the contender, Obama would have had a strategy for dealing with him and for turning his strengths into weaknesses. Again, maybe it would work and maybe it wouldn’t. We’re choosing our own adventure here, so there is no “right” or “wrong” answer. It’s just that saying the strengths Rick Perry had as a candidate going into the Presidential race would still be serving him as well as they did before he announced his candidacy is leaving the analysis short and ignoring what has happened with the guy who did survive the primary.