America learned last debate that Texas Gov. Rick Perry supports militarizing –"boots on the ground"—the border with Mexico; we know he supports federal amendments to ban gay marriage and abortion, and we definitely know he's not worried about potential failures in Texas "justice."
So naturally the biggest problem is his (rhetorical) aversion to the federal government. It's up to Howard Fineman to leap to the defense over at The Huffington Post:
The man who made the federal government's role the center of the campaign is also the man who was the center of attention in the debate: Rick Perry.
He has his story about the 10th Amendment and he is sticking to it. An all-but-forgotten part of the Bill of Rights until recently, it has become the organizing principle of the GOP race this year. When Perry mentioned the federal government during the debate, he used the word "they." It was "they"—the feds—who were disregarding their duty to protect the border with Mexico.
Think about it: the federal government is "they."
Is that the way most Americans regard it?
The GOP nomination, it seems, is going to go to the candidate who most forcefully makes the case for his or her antagonism to the federal government.
It will be up to President Obama not only to make the case for his own re-election, but for the role of the federal government itself.
There's some truth to this change in framing. As Matt Welch points out below, even four years ago, the GOP sounded more interested in praising God than dissing the Fed (besides the obvious exception.)
But here at Reason, both Mike Riggs and Peter Suderman recently pointed out that Perry's radicalism is not what it has been described—both lovingly and fearfully—as. Like all good politicians, the man who wrote "if you don't like medicinal marijuana and gay marriage, don't move to California" may fade more and more as the presidential race gets closer to a finish. And, as Salon points out, already there are downsides to every debate tactic, including being the front-runner friend of Federalism:
Perry was reduced to pleading the Tenth—arguing that he was guilty only of handling immigration in a way that worked for his state and stressing that he vehemently opposes a national version of the Dream Act. Of course, this is the same basic defense that Romney offers Republicans whenever his Massachusetts healthcare law is attacked.I did what was right for my state, but believe me I hate ObamaCare just as much as you do. And whenever Perry says or does anything that makes him seem more like Romney and less like the "pure" conservative alternative, well, it's probably a good moment for Romney.
Perry, if he manages to find the sweet spot between demanding massive government cuts and not condemning Social Security too harshly, could be the new president. The federal government is probably safe regardless.