GOP regulars claim the "electability argument" will deliver the Republican nomination to Mitt Romney. They say things like, "Mitt Romney can win the general election by appealing to the middle. Rick Perry can't win in the suburbs of Philadelphia and Milwaukee."
Simple enough -- but wrong. Romney's no stronger on this front than Perry, the frontrunner in the polls. The core reasons: Perry's support among the party's base, and his strength on the key issues of the economy and job creation.
Based on what we know today, next November's election will be decided on the economy and as a referendum on President Obama's first term. The recent debates have confirmed the GOP nominee will be either Perry or Romney. Significant late entrants into the field are extremely unlikely -- the field is set.
Full disclosure: I recently personally contributed to Perry's campaign, though I opposed him on last year's Texas gubernatorial primary -- and will readily support whoever wins the presidential primaries.
That said, I believe he's objectively the stronger general-election nominee. The GOP primary electorate seems to agree, according to a CNN-ORD national poll released on Monday. Asked which candidate "had the best chance to beat Barack Obama in the general election," registered Republicans gave Perry 42 percent and Romney 36 percent, with the rest of the field (including Sarah Palin) taking 27 percent.
How can this be? Consider what the general election will look like.
Facing a terrible and deteriorating economy and falling approval ratings, President Obama has only one strategic choice: Use his massive financial advantage to go negative -- to make centrist voters fear or hate the Republican nominee.
This path will depress independent turnout, as negative campaigns always do, increasing the power of both party's bases. For a recent example, look no further than 2004. Facing similarly low approval ratings, the Bush-Cheney campaign immediately branded their opponent a flip-flopper and outside groups ran the damaging Swift Boat advertisements. The result: President George W. Bush won re-election -- by a margin of only 60,000 votes in Ohio.
In other words, Obama's strategy increases the general-election importance of the fact that the GOP base trusts Perry -- and decreases any edge Romney would have with independents.
Then there's the jobs issue. Romney certainly has a deep understanding of international markets and how the private sector works. But as governor his private-sector job-creation record pales next to Perry's 10-year record.
And Perry can present two models to the country:
• A Texas model with 1,000-plus people moving each day to the state has created more private-sector jobs than the other 49 states combined since the economic recovery began. Texas also plugged a huge biennial budget deficit earlier this year without raising taxes, while protecting its $6 billion rainy-day fund.
• A Washington, DC, model with 9.1 percent unemployment and 25 million people either unemployed or underemployed -- and more Americans on food stamps than ever before. Plus, discretionary spending has jumped 30 percent, creating the two largest single-year deficits in history and leading to trillion-dollar annual deficits for the next decade.
He can ask, "Which model do you want?" This sharp contrast can cut through the president's diversionary attacks.
Romney, meanwhile, will have to spend precious time and energy explaining RomneyCare, dealing with unfortunate and bigoted questions about his Mormon religion and trying to energize a depressed Republican base that views him suspiciously.
Perhaps in a normal year, the more moderate candidate would be the more electable one. But in these times, the GOP needs bold colors, not pale pastels, to win.
Matt Mackowiak is a Republican consultant and president of Potomac Strategy Group, LLC. Hecan be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.