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It's been one week since the Ames straw poll and Rick Perry's announcement that he's seeking the White House.
While big media seems obsessed with inconsequential topics such as Perry's view of evolution and science, mainstream voters have been impressed. Perry's best line of the week, repeated a number of times in Iowa, was that he is aiming to make Washington as inconsequential as possible.
Michele Bachmann may have won the straw poll, but Perry's proved every bit as appealing to Tea Partiers as Bachmann has, plus he has excited "growth-first" conservatives because of his economic record - which has withstood the initial rounds of criticism from his skeptics.
A good many Americans want Washington (with its strong jobs market and recession-proof economy buoyed by the federal government) to be as inconsequential as possible. It was a brilliant line, and it seems backed up not just by a commitment to stand on principle, which is Bachmann's main selling point, but by a record of accomplishment that makes voters think, "Yeah, this guy can do that!"
Perry's rollout has been better than expected. The expectations were high, and it seemed he was vulnerable to any number of likely scenarios in which his balloon started deflating early.
But he has ended the week stronger than he started. His numbers are strong. Not just in Iowa and South Carolina, but even in New Hampshire, where a new Magellan poll has him in 2nd place (way behind frontrunner Romney, but everyone expects him to clean up in the Granite State).
As USC's Dan Schnur notes today in the Post, Perry so far seems the candidate most likely to bring together the Tea Party and the establishment. "Establishment," of course, is thrown around far too loosely these days, applying to everyone from Republicans who've been in Congress for more than three terms to moderates. But the point seems right-on at this point: Perry's 10th Amendment persona and gun-slinging bravado are pretty hard to top when it comes to Tea Party appeal, and his economic record and ability to deal favorably with business interests endear him to "the establishment."
Because Perry is the first and only candidate so far to achieve this union, he has begun to sideline other wannabes and one-time hopefuls. Ron Paul has complained (and will continue to complain) that he's not getting enough attention. The problem is, despite his strong showing in Ames, he simply won't win the nomination. He may energize an already-energetic corner of the Tea Party. But it's not the whole Tea Party. The problem with Paul is not that he doesn't get enough coverage; it's that Michele Bachmann has gotten an inordinate amount of attention, which has made his coverage seem slight.
He just won't be as consequential as he hopes to be.
Jon Huntsman, on the other hand, seems determined to be the establishment candidate of choice. In what appears to be a primary strategy based on appealing to non-primary voters, he seems bent on losing the nomination. He really should just drop out now. Romney is the better establishment candidate, and Perry is now positioning himself to start claiming enough of Romney's support to make Romney nervous and Huntsman utterly inconsequential.
For those who think Ron Paul deserves more attention and who believed Huntsman was a credible candidate, it should be clear that Perry's entrance into the race has made them both small enough that the writing is on the wall. In fact, Perry's entrance has already begun to diminish Michele Bachmann's status enough that, if no one else enters, we'll see a two person race - Romney vs. Perry - in just a few weeks.