More On What This Election is “About”

As I’ve argued earlier today (and elsewhere, for much of the last year), those assuming the entire 2012 election cycle is “about the economy” have not been paying much attention to the GOP nominating contest. Many Republican “base” voters are grinding ideological axes that have little or nothing to do with the economy other than reflecting a determination to do nothing whatsoever about it that would discomfit wealthy “job creators.”

At The Caucus site of the New York Times, Micheal D. Shear has a fascinating glimpse into the psyche of Iowa Republicans based on how audiences are reacting to different pitches from candidate Rick Perry:

On Tuesday, Rick Perry held four events, starting in Council Bluffs and ending up in Osceola, about an hour south of Des Moines. Mr. Perry talked about being an outsider, taking the fight to President Obama and making the Congress a part-time legislature.

But the audiences in all four places were remarkably similar when it came to what parts of Mr. Perry’s speech moved them to applause, sometimes even hooting and hollering their approval when Mr. Perry touched on issues they care about.

Some of the applause was clearly for Mr. Perry, whose stump speech includes some well-delivered lines that are designed to get a reaction. But some of those lines fell flat on Tuesday, while the audience — not necessarily filled with supporters of Mr. Perry — sometimes applauded when the candidate least expected it.

According to Shear, the lines that “moved” Perry’s audiences were (1) statements of hard-line support for Israel’s position that a nuclear Iran is both imminent and intolerable (including a sharp attack on Ron Paul); (2) pledges to radically reduce the size and scope of the federal government, including Perry’s recycling of Lamar Alexander’s famous 1996 “cut their pay and send them home” tagline for creating a part-time Congress with lower salaries; (3) a pledge to “shut down the border” against undocumented workers; (4) a hard line against legalized abortion and funding for Planned Parenthood; (5) promises to increase domestic oil production; and (6) a pledge to barnstorm the country to achieve enactment and ratification of a balanced budget constitutional amendment.

With the arguable exception of the energy issue, none of these applause lines have much to do with jobs and the economy. And in retrospect, it’s clear Perry should have spent less time during the the early days of his campaign bragging about his jobs record in Texas, and a whole lot more time repositioning himself on immigration, where his “liberal” support for in-state tuition for the children of undocumented workers very nearly destroyed his campaign in Iowa and elsewhere.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.