Rick Perry is a solid achiever whose candidacy has been undermined by his wooden and sometimes obtuse debate performances. His assets do not lend themselves to that format, which, in truth, is completely unrelated to the needs of the presidency. A president never debates anyone – he sifts through various issues and arguments and makes decisions. His recent stumble over the government departments he would shut down – he should’ve said ten, not three – only shows that he had over-rehearsed, and was parroting but not thinking.
He is done, but he will inevitably reappear in the future, better prepared for the rigors of the campaign. He reminds me of another Southern governor whose initial foray into national politics – a long-winded, incredibly tedious speech in support of Mike Dukakis at the Democrat Convention in 1988 that became the butt of jokes. But Bill Clinton stopped the laughter in 1992. Perry might be in the future another Clinton, only more honest.
The Daffy Perennial
Every election features candidates who always run, never win, but represent a sector of the electorate. That is the candidacy of Ron Paul, who has some good ideas on the economy, and an attractive libertarian streak that is undone by some wacky views on major issues. For a candidate to harp on proposals that will never come to pass (end the Federal Reserve), whatever the merits, is a waste of time. And Paul is a throwback to the isolationists of the 1930s, in a time when the world is much smaller and the dangers to America and its allies much greater. Although the politics differ, Paul seems to do a good Ross Perot imitation, but votes for him are wasted.
Not His Time
Rick Santorum is a solid candidate with good ideas but dogged by the one black mark on his record: he lost his own state – Pennsylvania – in a landslide Senate defeat just a few years ago. He is also running on a social values platform that, though worthy, is out-of-step with the needs and interests of this particular campaign. Santorum, a fine speaker and good debater, will likely drop out sometime in January, endorse Romney, and be in line for a cabinet position in a Romney administration.
It is difficult to pinpoint when Michele Bachmann’s campaign fell off the rails. She is an appealing candidate, well versed on most issues, and clearly possessing more depth and experience than Sarah Palin. She is fiery, unafraid and very competent, but has received something of the Palin treatment by the mainstream media: since she, too, cuts into a major Democrat voting bloc – women – the media attempt to marginalize her as extreme, backwards, just a pretty face, etc.
Nothing sticks but she is dying the death of a thousand cuts, and being ignored as well. A misstatement or two, all blown out of proportion to the actual significance, has not helped. Iowa is her first and last stand, but she will remain a formidable influence, and should. If she hadn’t criticized Romney harshly on health care, she might be in the running for the vice presidential slot. Her career is far from over.
The Unknown Who Will Remain UnknownJon Huntsman is a thoughtful fellow with some accomplishments under his belt who lacks only two assets in presidential politics: a base and other voters that the base can attract.
* * * * * In truth, all the candidates are credible (except for Ron Paul) and all would be improvements over the incumbent. It is actually a strong field of contestants who are honing their messages in the seemingly interminable debates. One who sees the field as weak is being influenced by the fact that no one looks presidential until he or she becomes president.
In time, and not very long at all – months – two or three of the candidates will stand head and shoulders above the rest and the choice will be clearer. And the road to recovery, if there is such a road, that much closer.
Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey, and the author most recently of “Judges for Our Time: Contemporary Lessons from the Book of Shoftim” (Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem, 2009). His writings and lectures can be found at www.Rabbipruzansky.com.