Rick Perry's ship keeps taking on water

Do Republicans appreciate how bleak their options will be if Chris Christie decides not to run?

By Steve Kornacki
Published October 3, 2011 6:39PM (EDT)
Republican presidential candidate Texas Governor Rick Perry listens to voters question at an economic forum in Hampton, New Hampshire October 1, 2011. REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)        (Reuters)
Republican presidential candidate Texas Governor Rick Perry listens to voters question at an economic forum in Hampton, New Hampshire October 1, 2011. REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) (Reuters)

What you may have missed while the political world has been preoccupied with Chris Christie's last-minute reconsideration: The Good Ship Perry is still taking on water.

The latest news is that the Texas governor spent tens of millions of dollars in public funds to lure subprime lenders to his state, brushing off concerns about a potentially dangerous housing bubble in 2007 as "slightly alarmist." This comes a day after the Washington Post reported that the name of a hunting camp that Perry and his father leased for years (and where Perry routinely played host to supporters and fellow politicians) was rooted in a racial epithet.

Individually, these stories don't have to be devastating. Perry is hardly the only major politician with housing bubble baggage, and while the hunting lodge name does conjure unfortunate (and unhelpful) Old South associations, Perry has condemned it and claimed the rock on which the name was displayed was painted over years ago. Even some of his critics are now speaking out to say that they don't consider Perry a racist.

If his campaign were otherwise rolling along smoothly, these would probably amount to bumps in the road, at least in terms of the GOP nomination. But that's just the point: Things aren't going well at all for Perry -- and these stories will only feed the growing perception that he's just not cut out for the national stage.

Don't forget that it was Perry's initial failure to live up to his billing as the GOP's great unifier that prompted this latest round of Christie chatter. Perry began his campaign in mid-August and immediately surged to the head of the GOP pack, only to arouse concerns with some overheated campaign trail antics. He then turned in three increasingly shaky debate showings, culminating in an epically bad performance two Thursdays ago in Orlando, Fla. -- one that exposed him to ridicule from conservative opinion leaders that would have been unthinkable just a few weeks earlier.

In the wake of that train wreck, Perry suffered a lopsided and humiliating defeat (to Herman Cain!) at a Florida straw poll that his campaign had targeted aggressively. Then a national poll showed him losing a third of his support in the last month and falling behind Romney for the first time (while barely holding off Cain!). It was at that point, early last week, that Christie delivered his long-scheduled speech at the Reagan Library in California. The reviews from Republicans were positive, not so much for the speech but for the question-and-answer session that followed, prompting Christie to send signals for the first time that he actually might run.

But now, after a weekend of relative seclusion, signs are emerging from Christie's camp that he's unlikely to take the bait, apparently for fear of all of the risks that would attend a late-starting campaign. Which would leave Republicans in a very strange positions. Let's review:

  • Perry is in a free fall. The national poll that showed him dropping to 19 percent was released last Wednesday, and the news since then hasn't been good for him. It wouldn't be surprising if the next credible poll shows even further erosion, which would in turn only feed the Perry implosion narrative. PPP has been releasing findings today from several random states, none of them early GOP primary battlegrounds, but the numbers suggest that Perry's plunge hasn't abated yet.
  • Romney can't seem to break 25 percent. That same national poll from last Wednesday showed Romney, despite being widely considered the only credible alternative to Perry, gaining just one point. Instead, the runoff from Perry (and from Michele Bachmann, whose support has always slipped dramatically) went to Cain and Newt Gingrich, who are both now back in double-digits. Romney's unspoken strategy rests on being the candidate of last resort for the Republican base, but when you see polls like this, it's worth wondering if he can ever win them over.
  • Cain is determined to miss his moment. Because of Perry's implosion, the lack of other viable conservatives, and the base's aversion to Romney, Cain suddenly has an actual opportunity to establish himself as a player in this race. But he doesn't seem interested in doing so. As NBC's First Read notes:

For starters, with about three months until the Iowa caucuses, he’s going on a book tour for much of October. Second, he's not scheduled to be back in Iowa until mid-November. And third, his communications director just left his campaign -- to work for the reelection of Louisiana’s lieutenant governor (!!!).

Explain to me again why it's such a crazy idea for Christie to get in this race?

Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki is an MSNBC host and political correspondent. Previously, he hosted “Up with Steve Kornacki” on Saturday and Sunday 8-10 a.m. ET and was a co-host on MSNBC’s ensemble show “The Cycle.” He has written for the New York Observer, covered Congress for Roll Call, and was the politics editor for Salon. His book, which focuses on the political history of the 1990s, is due out in 2017.

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