For months, I have thought that once Rick Perry got in the race for President, he would dominate the GOP field. Unlike Romney, he has been a solid conservative and more importantly, dominated every election for Governor in a southern conservative state. Romney barely beat a weak Democrat in 2002 and that has represented the sum total of electoral success. Perry dominated a challenger who dramatically outspent him in 2002, survived a divided field as a weak incumbent in 2006, and clobbered the establishment choice of Kay Bailout Hutchison in the 2010 GOP primary while going on to dominate another hapless Democrat in the fall.
However, from watching and reading about Rick Perry’s horrendous, stuttering debate performances, it should be obvious that running for president is a completely different ballgame than running for statewide office in a one-party state. George W. Bush had the benefit of running against a popular incumbent in Ann Richards as Texas moved from being a conservative state to a conservative Republican state. Perry has feasted on weak opponents and thus has appeared stronger for it even though he is clearly an average politician.
The closest non-political parallel is to a hitter who dominates the minor leagues but can’t hit major league pitching once he comes up. Since my frame of reference never strays much from late-80s Boston sports, Sam Horn immediately comes to my mind. Besides being the namesake for the popular Red Sox website Son of Sam Horn, he dominated AAA pitching in 1987 – .321 average, 30 homers, 1.037 OPS. Given how Bill Buckner was limping to his career finish that year and the team was horrible, his promotion was one of the few highlights. In his first time around the league, he hit 14 homers and had a .945 OPS, the equivalent of the Perry poll bounce after he got in the race.
I couldn’t have been more excited by Horn taking over first base and anchoring the middle of the order in 1988. He started the year hitting .148 with 2 homers and was sent down. Horn went on to hit .238 with 48 homers over the parts of 7 seasons. While it seems impressive to win three elections for Governor in one of the largest states in the country, it actually exaggerates political talent to those in the DC media and fundraising community. You have to be an exceptional talent like President Obama to overcome the lack of seasoning from not running in competitive elections before jumping into a presidential contest. Obama got into the race early and got his at bats in throughout 2007 so he was ready when the lights came on for real and went on to a run similar to Albert Pujols’s rookie season (.329/37 HRs/130 RBIs). Perry would have benefited from doing the same instead of getting in late. There is nothing in American politics that prepares someone for a presidential race. And if you and your team doesn’t realize that, you flail around like Sam Horn facing a change up.
I should have seen that but this bizarre GOP contest seems to both violate and confirm normal political rules.