Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s exit from the race, beyond South Carolina, is more helpful to Mitt Romney than many imagine.
As we saw today with the endorsement by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, GOP governors are now freed up to come out for Romney, something many have been hoping to do once Perry began to falter. Look for more of these in days and weeks ahead.
Romney, as he did a bit last night, can also tout himself as the only one with executive experience. Watch him hit the point that President Obama never ran anything and neither has any of his opponents. Former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton makes that point in the Wall Street Journal today:
The [chief executive] skills required are neither those needed for keeping a clean inbox nor for mere academic observation of business or government. And most assuredly they are not speechifying or engaging in candidate cattle shows. Executive competence is not legislative legerdemain, just as parliamentary acumen is not judicial temperament, and running small judicial chambers or congressional offices is not a qualification to run the Defense Department.
Inert, uncooperative and sometimes openly hostile bureaucracies, plus political appointees who are philosophically sound but all thumbs managerially, only begin the list of hurdles for a president to overcome. One who sees himself responsible only for the White House staff (or not even that) rather than the entire executive branch will soon find himself increasingly irrelevant.
Avoiding such failure requires sustained attention, steadiness, persistence, discipline and especially resolve. These are undramatic attributes, but they are powerfully consequential when well-used and central to a successful presidency. George H.W. Bush had them, especially in national-security matters. Mr. Obama obviously does not.
It also leaves Romney to argue he is the only one not a creature of Washington. He doesn’t carry Perry’s contempt for D.C., but neither can he be tagged with a load of problematic votes or be tied to “Republican obstructionism.” He’s going to make the argument that outside of D.C. Democrats and Republicans can work together and he can do the same inside the Beltway.
And finally, there is one less irritating opponent on the stage. Plainly Perry and Romney didn’t like each other, and Romney’s irritation was sometimes apparent. They may be more skilled debaters (and better candidates), but neither Newt Gingrich nor Rick Santorum rankles Romney to the same degree. You could see in his body language last night and facial expression a more relaxed Romney, feeling he (literally) had more room on the stage.
The smaller field forces closer comparison. You see how old Gingrich and Ron Paul appear in comparison to Romney and Santorum. You notice how methodically Santorum constructs his answer and how slyly Ron Paul can lower the boom on an opponent. But of those who remain, I suspect none is quite so pleased to have Perry gone and to claim the mantle as the only non-DC. legislator/lobbyist. It may not be enough in South Carolina, but down the road it will help.