The XX Factor

Which Panderer Will Win the GOP Nomination?

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

I long ago figured out that the GOP is never going to nominate my ideal candidate. Heck, it’s unlikely that my ideal candidate exists: “Fiscal conservative, social moderate (except on abortion), and largely secular” is not exactly a big faction of the party. The 2012 campaign, though, has left me gloomier than most. Mitt Romney would probably be competent, but he’s as flexible as Gumby on the issues. Of the people I most relate to, Tim Pawlenty already quit and Jon Huntsman unfortunately seems to be going nowhere.

Which brings us to Rick Perry and today’s New Republic article about his “conveniently timed conversion to radical evangelism,” as the headline describes it. Before his name came up as a possible presidential candidate, I knew little about him other than he was the governor of Texas with a Texas-sized personality, whose state had fared better through the recession than most, and who’d angered social conservatives with his executive order requiring Gardasil vaccinations (to prevent HPV) for Texas girls. He couldn’t be all bad, right? But then he preceded the announcement of his candidacy with “The Response,” his second big  “Day of Prayer” (the first was to bring rain to drought-stricken Texas) since April. My nose wrinkled.

But as Tiffany Stanley points out at the New Republic, “Growing up Methodist, [Perry] belonged to the mainline tradition that counts both George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton among its members.” It’s only been in recent years that Perry has discovered the appeal—and political benefits of—megachurches.

Such is my never-ending quest to choose between a giant douche and a turd sandwich that Stanley’s article is actually comforting. (That in and of itself is small comfort.) Let’s look at the four leading candidates: Mitt Romney, Perry, Michele Bachmann, and (to appease Jon Stewart) Ron Paul. Romney panders to hide all the not-in-any-way-conservative things he did as Massachusetts governor, which leaves the concern that he’ll win and start behaving like Gov. Romney. Perry, rather, apparently panders with a false zeal for evangelicalism, which leaves open the possibility that he’ll get into office and start behaving like the Gardasil-friendly Gov. Perry. Michele Bachmann is clearly not pandering regarding her religious beliefs, but if you believe in a secular government, that’s a con rather than a pro. Ron Paul is also not a panderer, but doesn’t really have a chance to win the nomination, as David Weigel points out.  So, in short, the realistic choice for moderate, mainstream Republicans at this point is between Romney and Perry.  Whose panderings are more troubling? Honestly, I can’t decide.