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Hundreds Of Miles Apart, Romney And Perry Trade Barbs

They’re spending the day in different states, but that isn’t stopping Mitt Romney and Rick Perry from already trading a few barbs in what is likely to be a preview of coming attractions. First, in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney hit Perry over his lack of business experience, which is a theme that Romney has fallen back on since the days of his 2008 campaign:

Mitt Romney said Monday his experience in business would help propel him over his opponents for the GOP presidential nomination, including the man who threatens to be his biggest rival, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Facing reporters’ questions, the former Massachusetts governor and private businessman took a dig at Perry, who drove media coverage this weekend with his splashy entrance into the presidential race, and most of the rest of the field of Republican White House hopefuls.

“I think understanding how the economy works by having worked in the real economy is finally essential in the White House and I hope people recognize that,” said Romney.

“I respect the other people in this race but I think the only other person that has that kind of extensive private sector experience besides me in the Republican race is Herman Cain, and I respect Herman Cain but I also think it’s helpful to have that government experience that I’ve had,” Romney said.

Romney has repeatedly faulted President Barack Obama for failing to understand how private business works, and he pivoted to apply that criticism to the Texas governor. Perry has essentially been a career politician, serving 11 years in the Governor’s mansion and as Lt. Governor to then-Gov. George W. Bush before that.

“I’ve learned how the economy works and I believe that skill is what the nation is looking for,” Romney said, continuing his strategy of highlighting his business credentials in a race that will hinge on the economic slump.

This is a theme that Republicans have hit on many times in the past,  but I’m not sure it’s really a good argument. There are significant differences between running a government and running a private business (especially the type of private business that Romney ran), and while it’s potentially a point in one’s favor to have real-world business experience, the idea that government should be “run like a business” is one of those easy sound bites that doesn’t really apply in the real world. In the business world, the CEO has far more authority over the operations of the business than the President does over the government. While they do have to deal with stockholders and a Board of Directors, CEO’s don’t have to get permission from Congress to spend money the way a President does, and they don’t have to worry about public opinion quite so much. Running a business can be valuable to the extent it gives one executive experience, but I’m not sure that business experience itself translates well to the field of public policy.

While, Romney was touting his experience as a businessman, Rick Perry was standing on a (literal) soapbox in Iowa drawing distinctions between himself and the former Governor of Massachusetts:

DES MOINES — On his third day in the race, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas wasted little time drawing distinctions on Monday with Mitt Romney, highlighting his experience creating jobs at home.

“Take a look at his record when he was governor. Take a look at my record,” Mr. Perry said, pausing for a moment to take a reporter’s question as he visited the Iowa State Fair. He added, “Running a state is different than running a business.”

Mr. Perry swept into the state fair, taking advantage of having the stage to himself, after a bustling week of politics here leading up to the Iowa Straw Poll. His Republican rivals have moved along to New Hampshire and South Carolina, giving Mr. Perry a final word — for now, at least — as he introduces himself to voters here.

He signaled his plan to campaign aggressively for the Iowa caucuses, which open the nominating fight, saying, “If you’re not in Iowa, you ain’t happening.”

With that comment, Mr. Perry was drawing another distinction with Mr. Romney, who has yet to decide how extensively to campaign in Iowa.

This is likely a preview of the arguments that Perry will be making as we get further into the race, and it strikes me that he’s going to be a far more serious competitor for Romney than any of the candidates who’ve entered the race so far. Unlike Bachmann, he has both the conservative bona fides and the experience to take Romney on directly. Unlike Pawlenty, it’s already apparent that he’s a much more energetic, aggressive campaigner, and while that Texas swagger may become his undoing at some point, it’s likely to take him pretty far in the race for the nomination.

Romney is going to have to pick up his game soon, and stop running his campaign as if he’s already the presumptive nominee. Because it’s no longer clear that he is.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. jfoobar says:

    Romney will definitely need to develop a better theme or three than the “business experience” angle if he doesn’t want to see his poll numbers start to drop precipitously.

    I dare say, I think Perry can actually lock things up pretty quickly, giving him plenty of time to start focusing on Obama. He can also spend every minute from the convention onwards softening the rhetoric he used up to that point to win the nomination so as to appeal to moderates.

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  2. Trumwill says:

    I’ve been meaning to put a “Gary Johnson for President” bumper sticker on my car for a while now. A meaningful preference, but an expression of dissent with the current GOP. The way things are shaping up, it looks like I might have to go straight to a Romney bumper sticker.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  3. Boyd says:

    Further to jfoobar’s comment above, experience in business is likely less important in getting elected than experience in governance. Has anyone ever gotten elected based on their business experience, at least at the federal level? While it’s nice to talk about what’s needed to govern effectively, if it doesn’t help one get elected, it isn’t of much use.

    Short version: it’s the election, stupid.

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  4. MBunge says:

    Perry has spent a grand total of 2 days under the national spotlight and has not had to do anything yet but stand there are look pretty. Let’s wait at least a few weeks before going gaga over the guy.

    Mike

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  5. jan says:

    @MBunge:

    Let’s wait at least a few weeks before going gaga over the guy.

    What’s being said on OTB is going gaga? I can’t wait until you get down and dirty with the guy!

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  6. michael reynolds says:

    They essential difference between Romney and Perry is that if Romney wins the White House I can stay in the US. If Perry wins the country has lost its mind and I’m going somewhere else. (A little extra incentive for those Perry supporters out there.)

    Romney is just a soulless, spineless technocrat.

    Perry is a creep, supported by creeps.

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  7. Trumwill says:

    @michael reynolds: Hmmm, where have I heard that before? :)

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  8. john personna says:

    It was kind of artful to use a barb that hooks both Obama and Perry.

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  9. john personna says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Lets go hide in Oregon. Hippies are thick on the ground and we’d be the last against the wall.

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  10. Trumwill says:

    @Boyd: GWB cited his business experience in his election. He’d only been governor for about five years (three legislative sessions) and had never held public office before that.

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  11. Boyd says:

    @Trumwill: So you’re saying that it was Bush’s experience with the Rangers that got him elected instead of his governorship? I certainly didn’t know anywhere close to the majority of folks that voted for President Bush, but those I did know never cited his time in Arlington as a rationale for electing him, nor have I seen any indication that it carried much weight with voters.

    But I’m willing to be educated. Do you know of anything that shows it was Bush’s business experience that carried the day, more than his experience as Governor?

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  12. Trumwill says:

    @Boyd: He wouldn’t have gotten elected straight to the presidency, but he made many, many references to his business experience. Maybe it helped, maybe it didn’t, but he sure seemed to think it was important.

    From this profile, Bush and Romney are quite similar. Both have political experience, but also lean on their business experience.

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  13. J. Stephen says:

    @MBunge: I’m certainly not “going gaga” over him. In fact, my prediction in the first post that he will win the nomination (assuming he doesn’t get caught killing puppies on camera or something) is little more than a manifestation of my tremendous pessimism.

    He is, sadly, the right guy at the right time for the current core of GOP voters who will decide this thing in 2012.

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  14. An Interested Party says:

    Hmm…when it looked like it might be Romney vs. Obama, business experience gave Romney a seeming edge in that he could supposedly do a better job of getting the economy back on track if he became president but now that it looks like Romney vs. Perry in the GOP primary, suddenly business experience isn’t so important anymore…

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  15. Trumwill says:

    It’s not unlike military experience. It’s important when your guy has it, but no big deal when the other guy does (or has more).

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  16. An Interested Party says:

    It’s not unlike military experience. It’s important when your guy has it, but no big deal when the other guy does (or has more).

    Oh, in other words, it’s all a load of horse$hit…

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  17. Trumwill says:

    @An Interested Party: Charitably, it’s something that many think it’s *nice* for a candidate to have, but the weight of its importance depends on the situation (whether or not you like the guy or don’t).

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