It will take some time, probably, for the polls to reflect all this, but they will. Republicans don’t want a posh, well-spoken Yankee who works at a place with a name like Bain Capital. In their deepest souls, they want a Texas governor. They want a shit-kicker. And here, we circle back to culture.
When my friends and I looked at George W. Bush in 1999, we shuddered like people who’d turned a street corner and stumbled across a dog’s corpse. We knew and had contempt for his beliefs, but it had nothing to do with them, really. It was just the way he presented himself. That puffed-out chest. That self-satisfied smirk. All that Jesus talk—even in the event that it was sincere, which we never quite bought, it was to a liberal deeply inappropriate to haul it into the public square like that. He represented Southern country clubs and Dodge Durangos and Browning bolt-actions and homes with no books in them (putting Laura to the side, since she wasn’t the candidate). He was the kind of man who, if I ran into him at a hospitality tent at a tailgate party, I’d make an effort to avoid. Liberals just couldn’t stand the sight of the guy. And that was before he ruined the country.
I understand that conservatives feel similarly about Obama. They look at him and see wine-and-cheese parties where people have jazz playing in the background and where talk turns to the merits and demerits of Jonathan Franzen, who drive Priuses (or is it Prii?) and buy espresso machines and live in homes with far too many books in them. And worse than that: for much of Red America, Dr. Frankenstein himself could not have stitched together a more perfect Other: urban, urbane, sophisticated, intellectual. “Black,” of course, may no longer be a deal breaker in this day and age, but it doesn’t help. Many conservatives clearly can’t stand the sight of him.
Perry, on this scale, is chillingly Bush-like. I saw a clip the other day of him saluting—an off-screen soldier, perhaps, or a flag. It was a small thing. But he looked exactly like Bush. The chest pumped up with self-regard. The overly aggressive way he thrust his saluting hand out from his forehead. He even, I swear, was smirking. I shuddered all over again.