I’ve been reading a lot of comments today about the Republican candidates and Rovian strategies that seem at odds with logic and I’m trying to make some sense of it for myself. This all coalesced for me when I was reading some live blogging about the Reagan Debate and it came to me that we as observers might be missing a fundamental tool in the way we evaluate what we’re seeing and hearing from these people. That tool is a willingness to overcome our own antipathy and genuinely look at these candidates through the eyes of the GOP base.

It seems to me that most pragmatic liberals are getting fouled in the nets of our own disgust with the rhetoric and records and associates of the field of current GOP candidates. What crystallized for me was reading that the biggest applause getter during the debate was Rick Perry’s record on executions in Texas. Up to that point, I’d been reading that people thought Perry was a flash in the pan and would flame out by the time of the Florida primaries. Even tonight during the debate, people were saying ‘stick a fork in him, he’s done.’ From our perspective, even if Perry stammered and wasn’t as polished as we were led to believe, judging from the applause for his execution record, he’s anything but done. If anything his willingness to execute people makes him the biggest swinging dick in the room and that’s red, juicy, pardon-the-pun meat for the Religious Right. He is by far and away the most authentic right winger in the race. And now he’s polling well ahead of the other contenders.

Karl Rove doesn’t appear to like or support Rick Perry. Even Dick Cheney is on record as saying he disagrees with Perry’s statement that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. Rove thinks Perry’s book Fed Up isn’t going to fly with Republicans in a primary. This of course supposes that people are actually going to read that book, which isn’t guaranteed. Does Karl Rove randomly pick on candidates for no reason? I doubt it. Is it clear who Rove does support? Probably Jeb Bush. I’m not a fan of ‘conventional wisdom’ but there doesn’t seem to be anything else to go on right now, so let me state what I believe current CW is: All the real GOP candidates are sitting this one out until 2016 when they have a clear playing field. So if Rove wants Jeb Bush, then what is behind his efforts to undermine Rick Perry’s chances? If the expectation is that President Obama will be re-elected, then what does it matter who wins the nomination? Is it because Rick Perry is just too much like George W. Bush and by extension too much like Jeb Bush? A disastrous win for Rick Perry might harm Jeb Bush’s chances of distinguishing himself as ‘not just another toxic Texan’ in 2016. I’m certainly willing to entertain other explanations.

The question then becomes: What about the Koch Brothers? They had Rick Perry to their secret confab in Vail, Colorado this past June. Recently it was learned the Kochs view President Obama as Saddam Hussein and the 2012 election as the ‘Mother of All Wars’. The Kochs really, really want to win this election because they are all about shaping the Supreme Court.

If Karl Rove essentially wants to lose in 2012 with a not-Perry candidate to clear the field for his Jeb Bush, and the Koch Brothers really want to win with whomever they believe can, presumably Rick Perry, then aren’t they at cross purposes? Rove vs. Koch? That seems new to me, and very much like a rift. I don’t need there to be a rift, so I’m ruling out wishful thinking here. I just don’t see another explanation. Again, open to ideas. For the sake of argument, however, let’s just say I’m correct and I’m going where it leads me.

For the moment where that leads is Perry and Romney punching each other for the foreseeable future, with the 2nd tier candidates being reduced to vying for a chance to be tapped as a running mate, ultimately unable to get any air much less air time. What does this set up? Rove vs. Koch? Media vs. the Base? It think both. The Media and Rove both know that to even hope to make this a horse race; they must have a candidate for the general election who can be credibly cast as a moderate. Rick Perry simply cannot, in any way, make that grade. He’s too extreme and has too much baggage. He is a true believer, and so are the Koch Brothers. Romney is the only credible campaigner who can be molded to suit the Rove model of moderation to appeal in a general election, and has apparently been running a general election campaign from the get-go. But Romney is wholly unacceptable to the radicalized and activated base. Yes, if he ultimately gets the nomination, the Base will vote for him, of this we may all be sure. He still must get the nomination, and from what I’m seeing at present, that isn’t at all a certainty.

This just may be the time when Karl Rove is no longer calling the shots. 2010 empowered and emboldened the radical base in a way that no other recent election has. The freshman class of Representatives; the brash and blatant disrespect for the President shown with impunity by Boehner, McConnell, Ryan and Cantor has whetted their appetite for a fire-breathing radical. The GOP base may have just turned the corner on all sense of propriety and reason to the point where they will not settle for the old guard’s selection of a candidate. Rove is essentially powerless against any onslaught of voter energy should it find its way to supporting Perry against Romney.

The debate audience applauding for Perry's record on executions signals that he is clearly their favorite. We can't evaluate the debaters performances based on our value system. They're playing to their base. They’re speaking in terms their base understands even though their answers make us laugh and cringe. I think we’d be smart to remember that only 20 million people voted in the GOP primaries in '08. That's well within the demographic of the Religious Right's Base numbers. They and only they get to choose who will be their candidate. Not Rove. Not the Bush Machine. Not the Media. The Base is who will pick the nominee. If they truly prefer Perry, then that's who will get their votes. I’m willing to wager that the Base is more than willing to cast Rove aside in favor of their real true candidate who doesn’t just say he’s going to rule with an iron fist and be unmerciful and put a beat down on the Democrats; he’s already done it. In a big way. Rove and the Media can cry foul all they want, but those 20 million people are more likely to listen to what they hear in church, on Fox and the radio, and read in their inboxes and discuss at the race track than what the Party insiders tell them. The wild card here is who Fox and Limbaugh get behind.

Fire at will; I genuinely want to hear what folks think.

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