Tuesday, September 13, 2011


A couple of weeks ago we had Joe Klein wondering if Rick Perry is the new Howard Dean, and now we have Ross Douthat wondering the same thing:

As Perry fumbled his way through last night's Republican primary debate, though, the Texas governor seemed a lot more like Howard Dean in 2004 -- a candidate, again, who many Democratic primary voters wanted to support, because he was speaking their language and gleefully throwing insults in the teeth of a president they hated, but also a candidate whose weaknesses were obvious enough that he couldn't finally make the sale.

"Fumbled"? I guarantee that's not how the GOP electorate is going to read what happened last night; I guarantee they have no qualms about supporting him if he stays hardcore.

But let's move on. Douthat notes that Perry as governor hasn't been quite as hardcore as he is now on the campaign trail, and he compares that with the record of Dean -- a not-particularly-idological governor who took a much more left-wing posture as a presidential candidate.

Douthat then puzzles over this:

But whereas Dean wasn't often attacked from the left during the 2004 race..., Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are all happy to exploit Perry’s ideological deviations....

Gosh, and why would that be? Here, Ross, let me explain: Democrats in 2004 weren't looking for the most radically left-wing candidate imaginable. They just wanted someone who opposed the Iraq War, and who maybe preferred an economy run more like the New Deal (or even the Clinton years) than the Gilded Age. Not a particularly radical set of aspirations for an electorate.

The Republican electorate this year, by contrast, wants the craziest sumbitch available who also seems to have enough cred as a politician to win some kind of general election -- but the emphasis is absolutely on the "craziest sumbitch" part. These are people who cheer the notion of leaving the insured to die without medical treatment. Of course Perry is being attacked from the right in a way that Dean wasn't attacked from the left -- in the eyes of the modern GOP voter, you really can't be too far right. And you asbsolutely could be too far left for Democratic voters in '04. Ask Dennis Kucinich.