2012 Scramble: Who Loses If Rick Perry Gets In?

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With each passing week, Texas Governor Rick Perry seems to be inching closer to a run for the presidency. His supporters have been calling around to social conservatives urging them to keep their powder dry. Conservative kingmakers have begun to discuss Perry as the only one who checks both the “conservative” and “electability” boxes. And new national polls—however suspect they are at this point in the race—suggest that Perry is poised to remove Mitt Romney’s frontrunner mantle should he enter the race. What’s good for Perry is not good for everyone else.

Here’s a look at the losers should Perry decide to enter the race, a decision that could come as soon as next month.

LOSER–Mitt Romney.  From the beginning, Romney’s team has had a brilliantly simple game plan to move past all the failures of Mitt’s 2008 campaign: Focus on just one thing, President Obama’s economic record. In doing this, Romney has put electability, fundraising and job creation ahead of all the conservative litmus tests—from abortion to gay marriage to guns—that so bedeviled Romney last time around. And in a weak field, Romney has been able to hang back, hardly campaigning to maintain his front-runner status. But if Perry gets in, that all changes. Immediately, there will be another big governor with an electability argument and the ability to fundraise. What’s worse, Perry is a darling of social conservatives in a way that Romney will never be. Romney will be forced to up his game, and respond to Republicans, two things he has struggled with in the past.

LOSER—Michele Bachmann. As it stands, Bachmann has benefited greatly from her impeccable reputation as a social conservative who can raise the juices of the Tea Party base. But so far, she has not been able to nail down the endorsements of many national socially conservative leaders, and if you ask why, they tend to say the same thing: They are waiting for Perry. If Perry announces, expect a rush of enthusiasm among church leaders and movement non-profit leaders that easily eclipses Bachmann’s Iowa fan base.

LOSER—Jon Huntsman. Like Romney, Huntsman has a remarkably simple campaign strategy: Establish himself as the un-Romney in New Hampshire, and ride an upset win over Mitt to the nomination by pulling a John McCain in Florida. But with Perry in the race, that equation will get a lot more difficult to solve. Perry is almost certain to draw much of the anti-Romney conservative disaffection, leaving Huntsman as the odd-man out in New Hampshire, likable and appealing to low-blood pressure independents but not much else. Huntsman’s more aggressive tone, following last week’s replacement of campaign manager Susie Wiles, may be one way of dealing with a Perry entry.

LOSER—George W. Bush. Three years out of office, the second President Bush is enjoying a relative respite. No longer subject to daily tracking polls, and three years out of office, he has begun to reclaim his stature as a guy who tried to do the right thing, even if a lot of things went wrong. But Perry will certainly complicate the Bush legacy. The two men have long been rivals in Texas, quietly badmouthing each other behind the scenes, and occasionally to the press. And if Perry enters the race, he is sure to dredge up the lesser memories of Bush, from whom he will have to quickly distinguish himself. As Perry told reporters in 2008 in Iowa, Goerge W. Bush “never was” a fiscal conservative.

LOSER—Sarah Palin. Palin’s chances at winning the 2012 GOP nomination have gone from slim to slimmer this year, as she has done a modified version of the Donald Trump dance: Occasional public events to drum up media interest, but none of the real organization building, constituent glad-handing and fundraising that would be required to mount a serious campaign. Officially, Palin still believes she has plenty of time to mount a serious campaign, if she decides to. But there probably is no room for two people on the late-entry, conservative-savior mantle, and Palin will face a tough time winning the electability argument against the Texas governor.