Sarah Palin had a point the other day when she insisted on the necessity of a lengthy primary process for vetting candidates. For instance, less than a year ago, Gov. Perry of Texas was considered an invincible campaigner and feared as an unstoppable juggernaut were he to seek the Republican presidential nomination. He exits the campaign today as something close to a national joke. By the already-low standard set by the likes of Palin herself, Perry was a disaster of a candidate, veering wildly from the intemperate to the incompetent. His failure to remember the third Cabinet department he had earlier proposed to eliminate will go into the record books as one of the most catastrophic gaffes of modern electoral history, but he was already in decline by then. There had been nothing like it since Ted Kennedy's damning loss for words when Roger Mudd asked him why he wanted to be President back in 1980. Perry's blundering left one questioning the standards of Texans who had elevated the man to responsible offices many times over. It may handicap the credibility of Texas politicians on the national scene for a generation to come.
Perry's last act of the national campaign was to assist the suicide of the social-conservative anti-Romney coalition. Joining in the defiance of the conclave that met in his own state last weekend, the governor has endorsed Gingrich rather than Santorum, describing the former speaker as a "conservative visionary." Depending on your perspective, that's a perfect closing note -- that is, if you regard "conservative visionary" as an oxymoron. The schism within the social-conservative movement seems to divide "Washington" or "the Beltway," -- those who had to deal with Gingrich as a leader -- from those who know him only as a "visionary." One one side, against Gingrich, are current and former congressmen, Capitol pundits, and maybe also the people in charge of issue lobbies. On the other side, for him, may be anyone who sees himself or herself, or Gingrich, as an "outsider" or "anti-establishment" figure, for whom the complaints of establishment figures are meaningless, and to whom an otherwise unoffensive Santorum seems just too dull and plodding. This schism might not have emerged if not for Gingrich himself, who could end up blamed for either a Romney presidency or another Obama term, depending on how unsatisfactory the outcome proves. At least there won't be a Gingrich presidency to worry about. I feel fairly certain about this, despite Perry's sacrifice to the former Speaker, because it now seems more likely for an anti-Gingrich coalition than an anti-Romney coalition to gain traction. All Romney might need to do is promise Santorum the Vice-Presidency for Gingrich to be destroyed. If so many self-styled conservatives despise the "conservative visionary," it probably won't take much for them to vote for Romney, holding their noses or not, just to spite Gingrich. That would mean, of course, that Perry had backed the wrong horse, just to keep his record consistent.