Can Rick Perry’s candidacy for the presidency be saved? Not, I think, if he takes the advice of Red State‘s Erick Erickson. According to Erickson, Perry can resuscitate his political fortunes by taking on the Republican establishment directly, up to and including calling for the removal of John Boehner as Speaker of the House and Mitch McConnell as Senate Majority Leader. He should, Erickson says, call the Republican Establishment out on its broken promises and make himself the champion of the fight against big government.
Before I say why I think this advice is mistaken, I will say something for Erickson’s analysis. He refers to Donald Trump as Frankenstein’s monster, but also notes that, on this metaphor, the Republican Establishment is Dr. Frankenstein. They made the Trump candidacy possible by alienating their own supporters. I think this is a correct reading, as I said the other day.
Nevertheless, I think Erickson’s advice to Perry is mistaken. It makes three errors, one of omission and two of commission.
The error of omission is ignoring the question of illegal immigration that Trump has raised. This is the issue that Trump used to make a splash, and he has not backed away from it. Erickson says that Trump supporters are “patriots” who feel betrayed by the Republican Establishment. I think that is a defensible interpretation, but Trump’s success so far seems to indicate that they feel betrayed by its handling of the question of illegal immigration. If Perry were to rise by taking away Trump’s support–which is essentially what Erickson is trying to achieve by his advice–Perry would have to find some way to address this particular concern. But Erickson’s piece doesn’t say anything about this issue.
The first error of commission is the platform that Erickson says Perry should take up: opposition to big government. This is, of course, a position that any Republican will have to hold. But it does not seem to be the thing that has Republican voters most agitated at the moment, at least if Trump’s initial success is any indication. Illegal immigration is not a failure of big government, at least not directly. It is just a failure of government.
Moreover, while opposition to big government is a fine thing, it lacks a certain motivating specificity. “Big government” is a rather abstract concern. Voters tend to be motivated by some more positive and specific moral content. I have tried to make this point in response to Erickson before. I would say that a Republican candidate who runs for the presidency and makes opposition to big government his exclusive issue is going to lose. He’s not even going to win the Republican nomination. Both Republican primary voters and general American voters have concerns about big government, but they also have moral concerns about the character of our society. Speaking to those concerns is both more substantive and more likely to motivate them to vote.
The second error of commission is calling for Perry to openly say that Republicans in Congress have to give John Boehner and Mitch McConnell the heave-ho. It’s not clear that this would make things any better. Who would replace them? Moreover, it would just be a futile gesture, since Republicans in Congress are not going to change their leadership based on the demands of a presidential candidate–especially one whose candidacy is presently not doing well. It would be a transparent stunt, and Republican voters would see it as such.