America, It’s a Whole ‘Nother Country

Last night’s GOP debate will likely go down as the night Rick Perry decided to stop showing up tired for presidential debates and just go all-in and take a nap.

Of course he’s hurt himself with gaffes and followed up the debate last night by revisiting America’s decision to throw off the yoke of Henry VIII in the 1500s. And it’s too soon to say Rick Perry’s done, though it’s pretty hard to figure how he’s not. But stepping back from all the particulars, it seems to me that a key reason for Perry’s burn up on reentry into the atmosphere after his rapid ascent in August is that his key political handlers — and presumably Perry himself — simply didn’t grasp that the dynamics of national politics are just very different from those of Texas.At some level, every state is a microcosm. New York isn’t like the nation at large; California’s certainly isn’t. And Texans have been dominating American politics for decades — LBJ, GWB, Tom DeLay, Dick Armey, George H.W. Bush and the list goes on. So it’s not at all like they can’t go national. But it’s its own place. And what flies in conservative GOP politics in Texas can seem really, really way out in a lot of the remaining 49 states.

Most political operatives get that. But somehow Perry’s didn’t.

Back when Perry had only recently gotten in but had already started to hit some turbulence on Social Security and Bernanke and the rest, I was chatting with a top Republican strategist who was saying Perry just didn’t seem to get that that stuff that plays well in Texas doesn’t play at all in a lot of the rest of the country.

Back at that time when Perry was doubling down on Social Security being a “monstrous lie” or talking about stringing up your local central banker a lot of people were thinking, wow, that seems like really toxic stuff. What does Perry and his team know that I don’t?

Well the answer was, nothing. It was toxic. There wasn’t anything they knew. They didn’t know what they were doing. He got so far to the right or really so far to whack on Social Security that he gave Romney a solid opening from the left. And he managed to pull off that attack in a Republican primary. Which is really saying something. Especially for Romney who’s prime vulnerability is core GOP voters abiding belief that he’s not one of them.

I’m always surprised when big players come into a race, with what’s supposed to be a really knowledgable entourage and they just really don’t grasp some basic things about national politics. But that’s what happened here.