Where Mitt Romney is obedient and cautious, Rick Perry is bombastic and spontaneous. If they had attended the same high school, they probably would have hung out at opposite ends of the hallway. Their relationship today is said to be frosty, if there is one at all.
“In every single possible way, they come from different worlds,” said Republican strategist Alex Castellanos, who advised Romney in his 2008 race but is unaffiliated in the 2012 race. “You can see the playbook pretty clearly here: It’s populist against patrician, it’s rural Texas steel against unflappable Romney coolness, conservative versus center-right establishment, Texas strength versus Romney’s imperturbability, Perry’s simplicity versus Romney’s flexibility.”
In making their pitch to Republican voters, Romney and Perry both say their life experiences have prepared them for the presidency and for the onerous task of nursing the country’s ailing economy. Romney is campaigning as a steady, capable grown-up who can fix anything that needs fixing; Perry, as a passionate, principled leader who can channel the ire of a frustrated electorate.
The twin forces within the Republican Party are neatly manifested in the two candidates. Romney represents both the party’s upper-crust establishment and the state — Massachusetts — that for so long has been the GOP’s boogeyman. Perry represents the angry grass roots that are giving the party new energy and he personifies the state — Texas — that for a generation has been the GOP’s soul.
Just as Obama’s 2008 victory over Hillary Rodham Clinton helped define the modern Democratic Party, Republicans, in choosing between Romney, Perry or perhaps someone else, will make a powerful statement about the GOP’s identity.
Relating to voters
Romney, a former consultant who founded a successful private-equity firm, seems at his best discussing the intricacies of how businesses grow. When he announced his 59-point economic plan, Romney began by saying that “this is going to be a conversation” and proceeded to speak extemporaneously for half an hour with just one page of hand-scribbled notes.
It’s when Romney tries to relate to average folks or banter about trivial things that he can struggle. His critics poked fun at snapshots he posted to his Twitter account showing him aboard Southwest Airlines and eating a Subway sandwich. When Romney posed for a picture with the staff of a ’50s-themed diner in New Hampshire over the summer, he pretended one of the waitresses had pinched his backside. His attempt at a practical joke left those around him puzzled.