Michael Tomasky tells us that we shouldn’t look to him for investment advice:
The conventional wisdom is dumping hard on Rick Perry. Politico blared Friday, in the wake of his fumbling debate performance, that he might already be “Texas toast.” This tells me now is exactly the time to buy Perry stock. The reasons are simple. First, the likelihood that Perry will iron out the wrinkles and become a better debater and candidate over time is greater, and maybe far greater, than the likelihood that Mitt Romney will become more acceptable to conservatives.
There is always the danger that the consensus on Perry’s weaknesses is an example of people seeing what they want to see. If enough people regard the prospect of a credible Perry candidacy to be disturbing, they may start to imagine that Perry’s candidacy is beginning to fail when it isn’t. However, I don’t think that explains what has been happening this week. Perry’s performance in the third debate has been universally derided as his worst one yet, which may mean that he cannot or will not “iron out the wrinkles” to become a better debater, perhaps because he doesn’t think he needs to do that. That may suggest a sense of entitlement that Perry feels because of his inflated national poll numbers. Whatever the reason, Perry has appeared to be getting much worse as a candidate since he launched his bid six weeks ago. More accurately, Perry was always a flawed candidate with some glaring weaknesses that have been fully exposed as he has been subjected to more scrutiny, and he has so far shown few signs that he can effectively criticize his rivals or make his arguments to advance his candidacy. His underwhelming second-place showing in the Florida P5 straw poll today suggests that activists have started to take notice.
It has been very easy for the consensus that Romney is simply unacceptable to too many conservatives to take hold because of an assumption that most conservative voters see Romney the way that most pundits and bloggers see him. “We” know that he is an ideologically compromised fraud, so a lot of people imagine that he can’t possibly be accepted by enough Republican voters to win. This takes for granted that voters have a lot of information about Romney, it assumes that most of them are judging candidates according to their ideological purity, and it ignores how much importance most Republicans place on winning the Presidency. Lev addressed this the other day in response to my incredulity that nearly two-thirds of New Hampshire primary voters trust Romney:
Anyone who has been following politics closely for the past decade knows exactly what Romney is, but most people don’t follow politics closely.
In order to grasp just how exceptionally unprincipled and opportunistic Romney is, one has to have spent an unusually large amount of time following his policy statements over the last six years, and then one has to become familiar with more than a decade of Romney’s previous candidacies. Apart from some activists and people with very strong views on certain issues, relatively few people are going to bother with this, and not all of these people will automatically conclude from this that Romney is unprincipled. Many professional partisans will be satisfied so long as Romney says all the right things now, and most voters are much less ideological than activists and professional partisans. Romney has spent the last six years eagerly cultivating conservatives, mouthing their phrases, and indulging their assumptions. Flattery is rewarded. Many of us are accustomed to accepting the idea that phoniness is politically damaging and “authenticity” is advantageous, so it is hard for us to believe that someone can pander and demagogue as shamelessly as Romney has and “get away with it,” but maybe he can. Partisanship is primarily tribal, which is a major reason why conservative Romney supporters don’t care about his past record, the individual mandate, or any of the other things that are supposed to doom him, and that helps to explain why Romney has as many conservative supporters as he does.
Tomasky argues that Romney is simply too unappealing as a person, and my instinct is to agree with this because I find him extremely unappealing, but that doesn’t appear to be what Republican voters or even many non-Republican voters think of him. Yes, there are quite a few conservatives who could never contemplate supporting Romney in the primary, and some, including myself, who could never support him at any point, but we are clearly in the minority. According to Gallup, 90% of Republicans would definitely vote or be willing to consider voting for Romney in the general election, and only 81% of Republicans say the same about Perry. Romney has a similar edge among independents: 70% are definitely supportive or willing to consider Romney, and just 60% say the same about Perry. Even 32% of Democrats say that they are open to backing a Romney candidacy compared to just 24% for Perry. These differences aren’t so marginal. The two of them have identical favorable ratings among Republicans at 74%. It truly gives me no pleasure to point all of this out, but there it is.