(REAL TIMES MEDIA)—So far the Republican race to become the nominee to face Obama in 2012 has been more interesting because of what is missing than what it actually has. The field of candidates was inherently flawed; no big names (2012 will be only the third time in the last 30 years that a Bush hasn’t been on the Republican ticket) were present. No one with an exciting back story or star power, no POWs or television personalities to keep the public interesting. In fact, the entire race had elicited little or no real attention until last weekend, when during the straw poll Texas governor Rick Perry finally announced that he was entering the race for Republican nominee, and for the first time this year the race is truly worth paying attention to.
The first thing that Gov. Rick Perry brings to the presidential nomination race of 2012 is something that has been sorely lacking in the contest thus far: Someone who actually wants to win the job. To be honest, if you want to become president of the United States, especially if you’re planning on facing an incumbent with more than a billion dollars in the bank, you better be dead set on winning the job. Many of the prominent Republicans until now don’t seem like they wanted the job. Sarah Palin has become a parody of herself, attracting attention for talking about the presidency but not making any real moves to run for the job. Tim Pawlenty, who dropped out of the race after a poor showing in the Iowa straw polls never seemed all that committed to the job either. I knew that he was done for as a candidate when he couldn’t give a straight answer about whether he thought he could beat Obama and when he ducked every chance he could to attack Mitt Romney. Speaking of which, Romney doesn’t fare much better. Thus far his strategy to the nomination seems to be “Win by NOT losing.” He hasn’t necessarily “won” any of the Republican debates so far, as much as he simply didn’t get outshined by someone else. He skipped the Iowa straw polls because as a “frontrunner” if he didn’t come in first it’d hurt his chances. Such milquetoast caution is not going to win you the most important job in the world. Thank God for Rick Perry. By announcing his bid for the presidency during the Iowa straw polls Perry showed the world, and the Republican field that he doesn’t care what the rules are, or the polite way to campaigning, he wants this job, and if that means upstaging everyone else then so be it.
At this point it is not clear whether or not Gov. Perry has the chops to actually go through with a whole campaign or if he’ll actually win the nomination but if the Republican party and the current candidates are smart they’ll see his entrance as an addition rather than an inevitability. Rick Perry gives every Republican nominee in the race now a chance to actually differentiate themselves from the Republicans in congress who the nation now views as a ship of fools. Perry can be attacked as the “old way” of doing politics in America. The “Old” Republican party of the Bush era that the Republicans hope the nation has amnesia about. All of the Bush baggage can be dredged up and laid at Perry’s feat, giving candidates like Michelle Bachman, Mitt Romney and even Rick Santorum a chance to turn themselves into “New” Republicans that are ready to tackle America’s problems. For the Republican voter and party as a whole this is a good opportunity as well. The GOP has a bad habit of picking winners in primaries and slowly forcing everyone else out of the race. Party elders forced out everyone else in 2000 in favor of Bush even when McCain was polling better, just like they pushed out Huckabee in 08’ in favor of McCain. A knockdown drag out fight between Mitt and Rick would focus the nation on GOP issues, criticisms of Obama and provide an actual battle tested nominee rather than just a party parrot.
Regardless of who actually wins the GOP nomination, or how they go about doing it rest assured they must be keenly aware of one basic fact. No matter how much they want the job Obama is a formidable candidate and even if the new GOP darling Rick Perry is the nominee he’s still got to make a lot of moves if he wants to beat out the sitting president.
(Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio.)