Electability Counts In A Primary

Like most media observers, I thought Mitt Romney continued to look like the winner in the first Perry-featuring GOP Presidential debate. Jonathan Chait disagrees, arguing that we’re “not thinking like Republican base voters.” He says that Perry’s series of vapid nonresponsive answers to questions “eerily apes the style of George W. Bush, who was also mocked for his intellectually vapid debating style, but who succeeded in rallying Republicans behind him.”

I don’t know what comparisons to George W Bush’s success really tell us. Bush entered the 2000 primary as the prohibitive favorite, and basically maintained that front-runner status throughout the entire primary. Romney, by contrast, is a guy who’s had obvious vulnerabilities (mandate!) as a candidate but has consistently withstood punches from his rivals. What’s more, when trying to think like a Republican base voter it’s worth remembering that one thing a Republican base voter wants to do is beat Barack Obama. If you came in to last night’s debate thinking that Perry would be the weaker general election candidate, nothing he said or did would tend to eliminate those fears. He gave a rambling, incoherent answer to a pretty straightforward question about climate change, insisted on making inflammatory statements about Social Security divorced from any policy point, etc.


I don’t think this was any kind of fiasco for Perry or anything. But as an incumbent governor of a major state with a more consistently conservative record that Romney’s, his job was to try to ameliorate electability concerns. And he just didn’t.