Today’s Gallup poll illustrates it perfectly. It finds that Republicans aren’t fazed at all by Rick Perry’s views on Social Security:
As many Republicans say they are more likely to vote for Perry for president because of his views on Social Security as say they are less likely — 19% each.
At the same time, nearly a third of independents say his Social Security views would be a turnoff in a general election:
Among independents, 12% are more likely to vote for him and 32% less likely.
What’s interesting here, and potentially problematic for Republicans, is that Perry seems to have doubled down on his harsh rhetoric about Social Security, and is even picking a fight with GOP establishment figures over their hand-wringing about it. He either can’t help himself, or he thinks it’s a political winner in the GOP primary for him — it allows him to appear tough, or something, and GOP primary voters like this sort of bluster about government.
As Jennifer Rubin notes, he does appear to be trying to sand the rough edges off his actual policy positions on Social Security, mostly by refusing to talk about them. He won’t say precisely where he stands on key questions, such as whether he still thinks aspects of the program should be devolved to the states. But Perry is resolutely not backing off his aggresive rhetoric about it.
Interestingly, while Republicans themselves aren’t fazed by his views or even agree with them, a high number of Republicans — 37 percent — have come to believe Perry’s Social Security positions will hurt his chances against Obama. So perhaps Romney’s strategy — positioning himself as the rational, cool-headed defender of the popular program while arguing to Republican voters that Perry’s irrational, hot-headed hostility towards it renders him unelectable — has a chance of gaining traction.