Thursday, September 8, 2011

Rick Perry and the Banality of the Electorate

The post-debate commentary seems to think that Rick Perry screwed up by pushing the "Social Security sucks" meme. However all of the arguments seem to focus electability questions. Either, the argument goes, Perry may have erred in such a way that endears him to the primary electorate, but hurts him in the general; or he actually hurt himself in the primary because primary voters care about electability.

Both these arguments ignore the possibility that saying bad things about Social Security may be unpopular with Republican primary voters. Raising the payroll tax cap has something close to 70% support, while the idea of cutting benefits is actually less popular than Barack Obama. What's more, Tea Partiers, who skew way older than the primary or general electorate, are largely supportive of Social Security. It's perfectly possible for Romney to leverage this attack into a genuine, policy-based critique of Perry, rather than focus on electability arguments. "You, Mr. GOP voter, you like Social Security. So do I! Perry doesn't. Sure, you may think it's awesome how he doesn't feel bad about executing people, and he has a Southern accent and I don't, but, you want that social security check, right? Then vote for me!"

Why no one is mentioning this is a mystery, in the same way that the fact that the major policy attack in the 2010 campaign—attacking ObamaCare's attempts to reign in health care costs as "$500 billion in Medicare cuts"—received very little news coverage. The people who show up to GOP debates in the fall may dig Rick Perry, but the people showing up to GOP priamries in the spring will probably be less enthusiastic.

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