We’ve been hard at this 2012 campaign game for months, but it wasn’t until this weekend that the race attracted a candidate who is “in love with America.” Who wants to pitch woo, wine and dine America, shortly before -- you know -- dismantling its institutions completely. That candidate is the “rascally” Rick Perry. He’s running for President now! Have a news cycle, sir, one that Michele Bachmann’s not using.
Perry didn’t participate in the Ames Straw Poll, but by Sunday night, it was like that whole big fried-butter build-up had never even happened, because thanks to his flair for retail politics and Michele Bachmann’s decision to cop a ‘tude at an evening event in Waterloo, Perry managed to stride from the scene, leaving behind a cloud of buzz and admiration. Snap polls documented Perry’s surge to the top, and momentarily forgetting the essential Fred Thompson-ness of it all, the 2012 race was declared a three-way between Perry, Mitt Romney, and Michele Bachmann.
Rick Perry, in his infinite wisdom, decided that this was a good moment to suggest that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was somehow deserving of sustained corporal harm. A third round of quantitative easing, to Perry’s mind, would be “treacherous” and “treasonous,” and he darkly mused, “I don't know what you all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas.” The media paused, momentarily weirded out, but soon were back at it, gushing in amusement over Perry’s “colorful tongue.”
But what happened next was interesting. Amid all of the condemnation of Perry’s Bernanke comment, one set of voices rang out the loudest -- the voices of the old Dubya Camp, who hate Perry like feline leukemia. Tony Fratto and Nicolle Wallace were quick out of the gate. Alex Castellanos piled on. But it was Karl Rove -- warning of right-wing extremism as if the concept of irony had never been invented -- who finally got the worm to turn. By mid-week, the media was over Perry, and amplifying the renewed voice of all those in the GOP bandstand who want someone -- anyone! Paul Ryan! Chris Christie! Nyan Cat! -- to get into the 2012 race and rescue it from oblivion.
Perry's entrance into the race made the press wonder if he'd be the guy to crack Mitt Romney's veneer at last. But Romney kept right on playing aloof, in the style he's stuck to since the game began. Perry surmounted Bachmann almost immediately in New Hampshire polling, but Mitt's stronghold remained and the first test of his composure had been passed. Still, with the calls for a "savior" renewed, Romney can't be that comfortable. The party elites' concerns over the field may be framed around a dislike of the extreme and the unelectable, but at their core, every call for Chris Christie or Paul Ryan or Jeb Bush is also a whisper that no one believes Mitt's good enough to be the standardbearer.
Of course, while we gained Rick Perry this week, we said goodbye to Tim Pawlenty. He finished third in the straw poll, but that was not deemed good enough to continue. Being forced out may be a kinder fate than the one Ron Paul received -- his second place finish earned him a media blackout, which only ended once everyone started reporting on the lack of Ron Paul reporting.
Meanwhile, Jon Huntsman took to Twitter to offer support for science and 70's-era avant-garde psychedelia. Fred Karger took his debate beef to the FEC. President Obama endured new polling lows and an email contretemps. Herman Cain talked impeachment, Buddy Roemer railed against Wall Street, and Newt Gingrich took his game to ... Hawaii? That sounds dubious! To get all of this and more from the campaign trail, please enter the Speculatron for the week of August 19, 2011.