Perry’s recent “oops” moment, when he forgot one of three federal agencies he would eliminate as president — making him appear unprepared and unserious about his own proposals — was hardly a strategic move. But his post-debate spin was all pander to that supposed lowbrow tea party voter.
“If Americans are looking for the slickest politician, the smoothest debater, I readily admit, I’m probably not their guy,” Perry said in an Associated Press interview. “The chattering class and the political pundits will try to guide this campaign. I’m going to be out talking to the people in South Carolina and Florida and New Hampshire and Iowa, those early primary states, about our vision for the country.”
Perry’s initial appeal within the tea party wasn’t about populism or anti-intellectualism, but rather his achievements as Texas governor. This suggested that he might be a candidate like Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican who won a Senate seat in 2010 as a tea party conservative but also a nerdy populist who enjoyed detailed discussions of issues.
“I think there’s this myth that this is an anti-intellectual movement, but it’s not against people who are smart and educated,” FreedomWorks’ Brandon said. “The anti-intellectualism is about people who think they know better; it’s intellectuals against free markets.”
Despite his early stumbles, from criticizing Paul Ryan’s budget plan to losing campaign staff en masse, Gingrich has stayed relevant in part because he has showed depth and knowledge in the debates, Republicans say.
Peter Wehner, who was a speechwriter for Bush, told the New York Times recently that many Republican candidates had demonstrated a “pride in ignorance and a lack of knowledge.” But he predicted, “At the end of the day, intellectual heft and command of policy and fluidity on the issues will carry the day.”
Romney’s campaign could be proving Wehner’s point. Polls show that many tea party conservatives are still eager to find a different candidate. But prominent conservative activists who have criticized Romney’s record are gradually acknowledging that in an imperfect field, they would rather have a smart, mostly conservative candidate than a very conservative one who can’t answer basic questions.
Gingrich has made the same argument.
“One of the Republican weaknesses is that we rely too much on consultants and too much on talking points, and we don’t rely enough on actually knowing things,” he said in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network. “If you’re going to lead the country and change history, you better know a heck of a lot before you start, because there’s not much time for learning on the job.”
Nia-Malika Henderson and Perry Bacon Jr. cover politics for The Washington Post.
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