It's been less than three weeks since the Ames Straw Poll, and the narrative of this still-young campaign season is flush with Rick Perry triumphalism. He's blown up the field, established early beachheads and kept his high numbers consistent and persistent. Perry has started stealing Mitt Romney's lunch money, and in one poll (STANDARD CAVEAT: National head-to-heads aren't all that predictive in September before the primaries begin and give more of an indication of near-term media narrative futures than long-term electoral results), Perry managed to top President Barack Obama for the first time.
Oh, and we're not mucking about when we say that poll numbers like that affect the near-term media narrative. Here's what near-term media narrative-mongers at Politico have done just this week with Rick Perry:
In his two weeks as a presidential candidate, Rick Perry has done something that neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney could do: wake up the left.
Perry panic has spread from the conference rooms of Washington, D.C., to the coffee shops of Brooklyn, with the realization that the conservative Texan could conceivably become the 45th president of the United States, a wave of alarm centering around Perry’s drawling, small-town affect and stands on core cultural issues such as women’s rights, gun control, the death penalty, and the separation of church and state.
Now, naturally, you should read "from the conference rooms of Washington, D.C., to the coffee shops of Brooklyn" and think, "LOL, Christ, that's maybe the dumbest sentence I've ever read." But here's D.C.'s Ezra Klein and the Brooklyn-adjacent Daily Intel crew saying, "Those guys have a point." And here is Planned Parenthood's Cecile Richards (daugher of Ann) basically fulfilling the original hypothesis.
And the new narrative tropes haven't just agitated the left. A day earlier, Jonathan Martin's piece, "Is Rick Perry dumb?" was getting the right's knickers in a twist as well. For example, it led Jim Geraghty to to file this litany of musings/complaints under the banner, "Is Media Coverage of Rick Perry Dumb?"
Well, we're not sure that any of this bothers Rick Perry at all. People are talking about him. He's a sensation, and it's taken very little effort. What's to worry about.
On the flip side of Perry's effortless ability to garner attention, let's consider the plights of Gary Johnson, Fred Karger, Thaddeus McCotter and Buddy Roemer. These are your Frozen-Out Foursome, caught in the Catch-22 of debate rules and regulations. See, these guys really need to get some name recognition and a spot in a public forum in order to boost their polling numbers. But the best means of doing so is participating in a GOP debate, and the barrier the Foursome keep hitting is that they haven't gotten their polling numbers high enough to be invited onstage. But a debate could solve everything.
Last week, Roemer's campaign manager sent out a scathing email, throwing hellfire and damnation on the whole debate cartel and its "bullshit rules." This week, CNN announced that the polling criteria for its upcoming debate was even more pick-and-choosey than previous guidelines -- allowing debate organizers to save the name brands who've cratered in the polls of late, without having to extend the courtesy to the Foursome, whom voters nationwide haven't had a chance to evaluate yet (and who occasionally aren't even named in the polls in which they need to do well).
Well, those two events seemed to have set all four of these candidates complaining anew, with Johnson claiming conspiracy, Karger crowing about the FEC's decision to investigate his exclusion from the Fox debate and McCotter complaining about getting shut out of the forthcoming NBC News debate. Will the Frozen-Out Foursome's complaining get them an invite? Or do they risk becoming known as candidates who are all about complaining about debates? We're going to find out soon enough.
Beyond the saga of the haves and have-nots, the week was not bereft of interesting moments. Michele Bachmann told a joke about God that few found funny. Ron Paul called for the end of a government agency at a moment few found timely. Some wag predicted a "shoo-in" Obama victory according to a model few found plausible. Jon Huntsman talked jobs, Mitt Romney switched gears, and is Newt Gingrich poised for a comeback? (No. No, he is not.) For all of this and more, please feel free to enter the Speculatron for the week of Sept. 2, 2011.