Ross Douthat writes in the New York Times today that Rick Perry reminds him of Howard Dean in the 2004 cycle, a comparison made by Jonah Goldberg on my program yesterday, and when both Douthat and Goldberg are simultaneously offering up a comparison, it is worth mulling over.
I offered Jonah and also Fred Barnes a different take for those like them and me who are always fighting the last political war: Rick Perry is in a position very similar to that of Mitt Romney in 2008, taking on the “heir apparent” but coming under withering rhetorical cross-fire from an opponent on the right, in 2008 Mike Huckabee and this year Michele Bachmann. The comparison is of course not exact, but the possibility of being a candidate in the middle of an establishment leader and a movement conservative is going to get another test in the next six months as Rick Perry tries to navigate between Romney’s broadsides and the Bachmann/Santorum barrages.
What is particularly striking is the apparent enmity that is developing between Teams Bachmann and Perry, just as bad blood ran between the Romney and Huckabee campaigns four years ago.
Three last points about Monday’s debate.
First, it was by far the best of the lot to date, with Wolf Blitzer doing a very good job of moving it along and the Tea Party questions giving the occasion the first real feel of the sort of exchange that GOP primary voters deserve. Blitzer, along with Candy Crowley and Jake Tapper are about the last MSMers left that any GOP team should agree to as debate moderators in the fall of 2012. (There are plenty at Fox, like Bret Baire and Neil Cavuto and of course the dean of them all Brit Hume, but will Democrats allow such an outrage as to be questioned by a Fox anchor?)
Second, Reince Preibus needs to get the RNC debates scheduled and peopled with moderators and panelists from the conservative movement so as to build interest and put the candidates into preparation for dealing with serious, sustained questions from conservative intellectuals and journalists. A panel of John Podhoretz, Bill Bennett and Fred Barnes, one of Jennifer Rubin, Sean Hannity and Megyn Kelly, or one of mark Levin, George Will and Claudia Rosett would be capable of selling tickets on pay-for-view and serve the cause of truly illuminating the key differences among the contenders.
Finally, Rick Santorum is gaining traction among GOP voters who are watching closely. I have long believed that had Santorum not sought re-election in 2006 but instead sought the GOP nomination for president, he would have had it. He is in many respects a perfect conservative candidate, and his mastery of foreign affairs shines through. The left loathes him, of course, more for his orthodox Catholicism than for anything he has said or done, but if Perry falters, the conservatives in Iowa won’t be going back to Michele Bachmann but almost certainly to the former senator.