Romney Gets His Challenger

Written by David Frum on Saturday August 13, 2011

For two years, disaffected conservative Republicans have shopped for an alternative to Mitt Romney.

They have worked their way through Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, and Donald Trump among others. The Ames straw poll turned a spotlight on Michele Bachmann.

Until now, anti-Romney Republicans have bumped against the same lethal problem every time: The mooted alternatives either failed to ignite the party base (Pawlenty) or else frightened away the party's monied elite (Bachmann). Or both.

Bachmann's win in the Ames straw poll fails to alter the basic shape of the problem. But Texas Governor Rick Perry's formal declaration as a candidate for the Republican nomination does change the game. Here at last is the non-Romney who can appeal to social conservatives but also raise the dollars to sustain a credible campaign for president. Straw, shmaw. Presidential campaigns are built of cash.

Perry's entry is nicely timed to squelch Michele Bachmann's big news bump. It shoulders aside Sarah Palin's "remember me?" attempts to make news. It buries the last of Tim Pawlenty's hopes. It suctions away Newt Gingrich's last hopes for money.

For the first time, Romney has a rival on his right with the ability to raise the resources to make a contest. True, Perry's liabilities remain real and large. (Rule 1 of American faith-based politics: if you organize a prayer event, you'd better not exclude Catholics.)  But unlike all the other non-Romneys to date, Perry also has strengths, including a proven ability to raise money by the barrel-load.

Ladies and gentlemen: we have a contest.