It is amazing how many "experts," who make their living prognosticating on political events, are clueless. A year ago they said it is near impossible to beat a sitting President. Well, simply put, that is nonsense. In my lifetime 5 sitting Presidents were re elected, Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and Bush II, three lost, Ford, Carter and Bush I, and two didn't run because they knew they would lose, Truman and Johnson.
Now the accepted wisdom is that Mitt Romney would do better against Obama than Rick Perry. Rich Lowry and Pat Buchanan both expressed this on Sunday and with certainty. The logic they apply is that since Romney is closer to the center politically, he will garner more support from independents. I believe they are wrong on this point alone, and very wrong on the conclusion they draw even if they are right here.
The "independent" voters are made up of Republican and Democratic independents, and independent independents. I choose to ignore the former group because they consistently vote 80% to 90% with the party they identify with. Given that independents average around 28% of the electorate, a swing of 10% one way or another among that subgroup becomes inconsequential. However, the independent independents can all go either way and therefore do count. I believe they will be attracted to a consistent, principled politician over one who has been on both sides of far too many issues.
But suppose I am wrong. Suppose Romney does attract more of them. Before concluding he is the more viable candidate, we also must look at a much larger voting bloc, evangelical and born again Christians (about 26% of the electorate.) How will they vote? I doubt there is a lot of negativity about Romney's being a Mormon, but there will be some. More important is the fact that evangelicals love, absolutely love Perry, and this will bring him far more votes than he could ever lose among independents.
Evangelicals vote primarily for Republicans, but enough vote Democratic that they can hardly be taken for granted. To illustrate how important their vote is think about this. In 1992 when Bush the elder lost the election, he was up against Bill Clinton, arguably the best politician in our lifetimes. He was coming out of an economic downturn that was being felt by most of the electorate. Ross Perot ran as a third party candidate taking 19% of the popular vote, most of it consisting of Republicans. With all this going against him, if Bush had gotten the same percentage of evangelical voters he got in 1988, he would have won the election. Breaking his "No new taxes" pledge so offended them, many either switched parties or sat home on election day.
Ronald Reagan taught a lesson to politicians that most today seem to have missed. The principled is also the political. Every time Reagan did something significant the press went apoplectic. When he fired the Air Traffic Controllers, when he called the Soviet Union the evil empire, when he said "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," and when he walked out of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty talks the press was aghast, calling him stupid, a cowboy, and the worst President in American history. Of course after the hysteria died down the public loved him for it, and proved so with their votes. I don't want to suggest Romney is unprincipled, but if being consistent is the measure of integrity we apply, Perry beats him hands down.