Andrew comments on Perry’s position on Social Security:

Even in a steep recession, an Obama-Perry fight is much likelier to end in an Obama victory. No one wants to return to Bushism. Very few want to abolish social security and Medicare.

I agree that very few want to abolish these programs. Other than roughly a quarter of the electorate, there are hardly any voters interested in seeing significant changes made to them. However, if the economy is in “steep recession” next year, the Republican nominee will almost certainly win. When the incumbent or his party is held responsible for poor economic performance, the electorate tends to be more willing to overlook things that might otherwise be considered a significant liability. In any case, unless he is trying to fail, Perry is not going to campaign for the abolition of Social Security or anything like it. That is what Romney wants everyone to think Perry means when he likens Social Security to a scam, and Romney is going to do his best to make voters think they can’t trust Perry to “save” Social Security. It could work, and it’s a perfectly plausible line of attack for Romney to use, but it will have to rely on an implied threat to Social Security rather than anything that Perry openly proposes during the campaign.

It is a comforting thought that no one wants a return to Bushism, but I’m not sure it’s true. On the domestic front, there still seems to be great enthusiasm for tax cuts, and Perry’s foreign policy (to the extent that there is any substance to it at all) appears to entirely consistent with Bushism, up to and including the election-year promises that his foreign policy will not involve military adventurism. A “return to Bushism” on entitlements would not involve eliminating or shrinking these programs. Actual Bushism in action entailed the massive expansion of the welfare state. The Bush administration took a program that already had huge unfunded liabilities and increased them by many trillions of dollars. The Bush administration abandoned the partial privatization of Social Security very quickly. Neither Romney nor Perry seems very interested in rejecting any Bush-era policies, and currently the two of them have the support of nearly half of their party. Perry’s potential vulnerability on Social Security is one sign that we are very likely to have a Republican nominee advocating something very much like Bushism.