This Week in 2012

CHRIS PUMMER: Despite being dislodged atop recent polls by Herman Cain, Rick Perry still poses the most likely danger to Mitt Romney’s chances of garnering the GOP nomination for president.

Cain is just now facing the media scrutiny directed at top-tier presidential candidates, and the early indications are that he’s not handling it very well.

While Perry has already taken the well-beaten path from the top of the polls to the middle of the second-tier — following in the footsteps of Donald Trump and Michele Bachmann — he has hope of bouncing back to become the non-Romney candidate for whom conservatives in the Republican party still desire.

In addition to his ability to raise money at the same pace as Romney, Perry also has a healthy campaign infrastructure. The kind of political machinery that, funded as it will be, can help him consolidate conservative support in early voting states, stay in the race long after hangers-on like Bachmann, Cain, Santorum and Gingrich have folded their tents, and scoop up all of the non-Romney vote that’s out there.

I’m skeptical this path is open to Perry. It probably isn’t if he can’t notch a win in Iowa. But his path is certainly more plausible than Cain’s.

Cain has a meager campaign infrastructure, and hasn’t raised enough money to compete with, much less surpass what Perry, and especially Romney, already have in place.

So Cain is likely to enjoy his moment of electrifying some conservatives and media pundits hoping for a juicier story line leading up to the primaries, but that electricity isn’t enough to power winning a presidential campaign with so many other disadvantages.

AAMIR BERMISS: I am much in agreement with Chris, except I think Cain might be a bigger blip that most people have bargained for.  And it is Cain who is going to upset the easy math of these primaries and turn it into a wretched calculus.

We can basically ignore Santorum, Paul, Bachmann, and even Huntsman at this point.  Christie is officially out.  Palin is “officially” out.  And there are a preposterous number of debates left before any real voting is to take place.  Rick Perry seemed like the golden child until he basically collapsed like a house of cards.  Romney is basically trying to win this bout on the points and is steering clear of any real confrontation.  Still Perry — for all his stumbling, bumbling, incidental racism [see: his family ranch], and sophistical gaffes — is a threat to Romney IF he can actually draw him out.  If he can force Romney to stop preening about with Presidential gravitas and cool and make him seem the defensive, awkward, and center-leaning candidate that we all actually know he is, then he can knock Romney out of the top spot.

Does that mean Perry gets the lead?  Or will it be Cain for a weeks?  Or will it suddenly become an open field once the other candidates have their turn bleeding Romney dry?  One cannot say.  Perry has the money, true, but Cain is making a name for himself.  If anything he is positioning himself in such a way as to make his endorsement of whomever a huge deal if/when he drops out early next year.

As for Romney, he’s in the lead but I don’t think he’s got the rope-a-dope skills to wear out Perry AND everyone else in the race with enough grace and aplomb left to mount a general election campaign.  Not if he keeps depending on thing staying this way for the next half year.  Its not possible.

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