You could tell Rick Perry was going to be a big problem for Mitt Romney as soon as the Texas governor started blowing him kisses. Asked a question on his first campaign leg about a Romney talking point, Perry brushed it off with a smooch and said, “Send him my love.”
It was classic Perry — audacious, a little gauche and entertaining. Surely, Romney didn't get blown many “right back atcha” kisses in the offices of Bain Capital or during his time as Massachusetts governor. The message was that Romney was about to get a challenge from a competitor less polite and earnest than erstwhile candidate Tim Pawlenty.
With Perry's entry in the race, the Republican presidential battle got the adrenaline shot it lacked. Republican primary voters had been yearning for a big combative personality. They flirted with Donald Trump while he flirted with them, and briefly bestowed their favor on the energetic and mediagenic Michele Bachmann. But Perry has filled the void in full.
He's a current officeholder and not a former something-or-other. He has a view of the world exactly counter to the president's. He evidently has an allergy to nuance. And he campaigns with a plunge-into-the-crowds, let-it-all-hang-out relish that none of the other candidates can match. Out on the hustings, Perry acts as if nothing could possibly please him more than shaking another hand or slapping another back.
Even during the debates, where his performances have been uneven, Perry has usually been loose and confident. He never shies from a fight, and (most of the time) seems to enjoy them. He laughs easily. No one would vote to elect him to the Oxford Union, but if it somehow happened, he'd have a heck of a time exchanging frank views with “the fellas.”
What we're about to see is if these qualities of Perry — call it his “hossness” — are enough for him to become the durable front-runner in the Republican nomination fight. He can go a long way just by demonstrating he's a fighter in the mold of a Sarah Palin or a Donald Trump. That means making the occasional incendiary comment, never apologizing, earning the hatred of the elites and not sweating the details. All of this, Perry has nailed.