“Businessman” Romney vs. “Career Politician” Perry

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The early cold war between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry has turned into real political skirmishing, and speaking in a speech in Perry’s home state on Tuesday, Romney took his most direct shots yet at the Texas governor. The opening battle is over management experience. Both men claim that they know how to get the economy moving again. Perry says Texas’s recent record of job growth shows that he understands how to use government to boost business (or, he might say, get government out of business’s way). Romney begs to differ, saying that an experienced businessman is better positioned to come up with pro-growth policies.Speaking at a VFW convention in Dallas, Romney took that argument a step further, casting Perry as a political insider who can’t be relied on. “I am a conservative businessman. I have spent most of my life outside of politics, dealing with real problems in the real economy. Career politicians got us into this mess and they simply don’t know how to get us out!” Romney declared.

I argued on Friday that Romney should be highlighting Perry’s scandalous past as a Democrat. (This friendly 1993 letter to Hillary Clinton about health care reform plays neatly into that case.) But that “career politican” line is also pretty effective. Perry has done a fine job of presenting himself as a populist hero who fits the Tea Party ideal of an anti-government outsider. But it happens to be the case that Perry has drawn a government paycheck for about 25 years, while Romney never has.

Of course, Romney is also very much a politician himself–from his looks to his lineage (his father was a governor) to his chameleonic self-reinventions. The man isn’t exactly subversive. So even as he tries to tarnish Perry’s Tea Party credentials, Romney is aiming to develop some of his own. After mostly keeping his distance from the movement, Romney will join a “Tea Party Express” bus tour in New Hampshire this weekend and headline his first Tea Party rally. This could be dodgy. I suspect that in his heart Romney has little regard for his party’s hard-right activist base, and faking enthusiasm among people with who he’s unfamiliar is not Mitt’s strong suit. That’s something, come to think, best left to the career politicians.