Rick Perry’s desperate and well-funded attempt to climb back from the bottom of the GOP pack, and the Republican establishment’s inability to accept Herman Cain or any other outside-the-box candidate as their nominee, portends a very messy finish to the fight for who will carry the party banner against President Obama.
Why do I predict that things will get bloody, not better in the weeks and months ahead? Here’s why: polling in the single digits usually dooms a candidate to obscurity in a crowded field. But former frontrunners – particularly former frontrunners with money in the bank – have a hard time throwing in the towel. They tend to only get meaner the further they fall. Under that rule, it looks we won’t be losing sight of Rick Perry any time soon and that spells trouble for Mitt Romney.
In fact, I expect things to get so bloody that I can’t help but compare it to a political murder-suicide plot. I call it that because in this scenario the candidate is determined to annihilate his or her rival even if it means they wind up killing their own political hopes in the process.
In 2004 I was running the Howard Dean campaign for the Democratic nomination when America witnessed Dick Gephardt performing the last political murder-suicide in a presidential campaign.
When Dean overtook Gephardt in polling in Iowa – a state the Missouri congressman had to win – Gephardt redirected his entire campaign to obliterate Dean.
Gephardt wasn’t reckless; he simply believed that the only way to win the nomination was to destroy the one guy that had gotten in his way or die trying. And he didn’t have much to lose, he was already dead anyway. Gephardt decided that if he couldn’t have the nomination he was going to make sure Dean couldn’t have it either.
Bad blood does that in politics and this time around there is plenty of it between Perry and Romney.
Like Gephardt, Perry’s murder-suicide campaign is ultimately being driven by a conclusion that it is the only pathway towards the nomination. Perry’s camp likely sees a Republican field that will whittle down to a choice between a conservative candidate and Romney. By destroying Romney, they figure, Perry will boost his conservative bona fides while giving other Republican voters reason to question their support for Romney.
Remarks from Perry’s “good friend,” Rev. Robert Jeffress, on Mormonism as well as Perry’s own offensive against Romney at the last debate for hiring illegal workers, are previews of the coming onslaught from the right.
The debate episode likely reinforced Perry’s decision to carry out this strategy.
For one thing, it proved that Romney can be knocked off message.
But more importantly, voters saw sides of Romney they hadn’t seen before. The normally even-keeled Romney became flustered and made a big mistake. The “I was running for office, for Pete’s sake” line will haunt Romney on the web and TV throughout the rest of his campaign.
The truth is that these volleys don’t just hurt Romney. Perry’s unfavorables tripled from September to October with Republican voters and will likely get worse with each bare-knuckled assault.
But this is the pact with the devil that Perry has made: If he can’t be the nominee, than neither can Romney. And as Democrats well know, this type of struggle has the potential to really shake up the field.
Gephardt’s murder-suicide strategy against Dean destroyed them both and helped clear the way for John Kerry to win Iowa.
After the dust settled, Dean and Gephardt finished 3rd and 4th respectively in Iowa where they were in the top two spots just weeks before.
Think this is the fantasy of a Democrat who is hoping Perry will succeed in destroying Mitt Romney’s chances in 2012 -- the only Republican who consistently is competitive with Obama in the polls?
Maybe. But consider this. Perry has something Gephardt could only have dreamed of in 2004: $55 million. That is the amount of money “Make Us Great Again,” a super-PAC supporting Rick Perry, has to unload on Romney with negative ads in early states.
And consider this -- Republicans don’t have an establishment candidate like John Kerry lurking in the middle of the pack like Democrats did in 2004.
There’s also another dimension to the coming debacle for Republicans: The GOP establishment’s aversion to risky outsiders and their inability to accept any of the remaining candidates as electable.
Michele Bachmann went to the lead in the Ames straw vote and spent the next weeks being hammered by pundits in her own party who pointed at mistakes and declared her “not ready.”
The same pundits then went after Perry when he emerged, and today Cain is getting “the treatment.”
It’s the way it works.
There is one thing the establishments of both parties can agree on: Insurgencies not controlled or sanctioned by the establishment are deemed by the establishment to be too risky and must be ruined and stopped.
Dean got the same treatment from the Democratic establishment in 2004. Cain, and yes, Newt Gingrich if he manages to emerge, will get the treatment from the GOP establishment this time around.
So there you have it. Mitt Romney, one of the weakest frontrunners for the nomination of either party in my lifetime being chased down by a well-funded Rick Perry in what may be the latest political murder-suicide. And the only people left standing are candidates unelectable or too risky. Candidates the GOP establishment wants to stop at all costs.
Still think Barack Obama is a one term president?
Joe Trippi is a Fox News contributor and political strategist who worked for Ted Kennedy, Walter Mondale and Gary Hart and turned Howard Dean into an unlikely front runner in 2004. For more visit JoeTrippi.com.