Huntsman, Perry and that ‘crazy’ label

This was a scene Hoosiers have seen before. The best and brightest – Birch Bayh and Dick Lugar – waged presidential campaigns and were rewarded with single digits, slights from pundits and early exits from snowy Iowa and New Hampshire. Gov. Mitch Daniels and Mike Pence could have broken into double digits had they run, and you can make an intellectual case that either of them might be in the upper tier in this confounding GOP presidential race. But here was Huntsman coming in at a Real Clear Politics composite poll average of 1.3%, trailing Herman Cain (4.3%) and Rick Santorum (1.8%).

Huntsman was the second Republican to take Chair Eric Holcomb’s magnificent invitation to come to Indiana and speak to the faithful. Cain drew about 50 people more when he appeared at the Columbia Club in August. A few days after he appeared in Indiana, Cain suggested that impeaching President Obama would be “a great thing to do.”

Huntsman is the moderate in the race, and some believed he could pick up the Daniels’ mantle. The Students for Daniels group did just that. 

The new frontrunner in the Republican race is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is the real figure filling the Daniels vacuum, sucking up much of the Bush money that had patiently awaited the Indiana governor’s entry into the race. Perry leads Mitt Romney by a 24.2 to 17% average, followed by Sarah Palin at 10.6% and Michele Bachmann at 9.3%. Of the four leading contenders, three are Tea Party bonafides, should half-term Alaska Gov. Palin get into the race.

When it comes to climate change – his Texas has been seared this summer with close to 50 days of 100-degree heat – Perry responded with a 30,000-person prayer rally at Reliant Stadium in Houston, where he urged his flock to “pray for rain.” Hurricane Irene, seen by Rep. Bachmann as a warning sign from God, careened into New England. Perry had said in New Hampshire that climate change was “unproven scientific theory.”

On evolution, Perry advocates teaching creationism in schools. Asked by a student in New Hampshire on Aug. 17, Perry said, “It’s a theory that’s out there. It’s got some gaps in it. In Texas we teach both creationism and evolution.”

Huntsman sensed an opening, saying on ABC’s “This Week,” “When we take a position that isn’t willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Science has said about what is causing climate change and man’s contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science, and, therefore, in a losing position.”

He was rewarded in Indianapolis with a modest, polite crowd.

These developments come as President Obama sags in the polls. Gallup’s three-day rolling average had the president at 38/55%. Only one sitting President – Harry S. Truman – survived such a low rating (36% in 1948).

In his 2010 book “Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington,” Perry advocates repealing the 17th Amendment (popular vote election of U.S. senators), saying, it’s a “blow to the ability of states to exert influence on the federal government.”

Social Security? It is “violently tossing aside any respect for our founding principles of federalism and limited government,” Perry said, calling it a “failure.” He believes Medicare is unconstitutional.

As for the judiciary, Perry writes of requiring federal judges to stand for reappointment and reconfirmation, and letting Congress override Supreme Court decisions with two-thirds votes in Congress.

And there was the April 15, 2009, Tea Party rally in Austin, where he talked secession. “We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it,” Perry said. “But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot.”

Yikes. Could Perry’s radical thoughts bail out Obama?

The supreme irony is that the “crazy” label is dangled on Jon Huntsman while Perry has talked secession, Bachmann a pre-planned federal default and confusion over Elvis, and Palin has trouble with something as simple as Paul Revere and American gun rights.

While some Hoosier Republicans will gravitate toward Perry, the unmistakable notion detected from the party faithful here is Mitch envy. They dream of a GOP version of a Barack/Hillary showdown that extends well beyond the May 2012 Indiana Republican primary, into a brokered national convention, with visions of a “draft” movement dancing in their heads.

(The columnist publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Contact Howey at bhowey2@gmail.com.)

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