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Rick Perry is making George W. Bush look sensible, and Mark McKinnon, the Austin-based political strategist who knows Perry from his time steering George W. Bush’s media strategy in Texas, thinks he could be driving moderates away from the party, imperiling the Republicans next November.

“I worry the physics of this year’s Republican primaries are pulling the party so far to the right that it will leave moderate Republicans and conservative-leaning Independents feeling homeless,” McKinnon, who played a top role in both of Bush’s successful presidential bids, said.

Jonathan Martin and Ben Smith think Perry stole the show in Iowa Sunday, noting that rival Michele Bachmann surrounds herself with a “cocoon” of protection, insulating her from genuine interaction with fans. Perry, on the other hand, seems calm and at-ease meeting voters.

And that Perry has talent on the campaign trail shouldn’t surprise: He had a bitter, but quite successful, gubernatorial primary fight against Kay Bailey Hutchison to hone his skills, and ran his 2010 general election campaign against Obama, despite actually facing a more conservative Democrat, former Houston Mayor Bill White. So this very speech has had time to mature and grow and the candidate by now is quite comfortable delivering it.

This doesn’t mean some in the party aren’t a bit nervous about having a primary slugfest between two hard-right candidates in Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry. Karl Rove, who spearheaded Perry’s switch to the Republican Party in 1989 before the two had something of a falling out when Rove became George W. Bush’s political boss, appeared on Fox News today to warn his party about “…candidates moving so Right in the Republican primary that it becomes impossible for them to win the general election, because it will become a self-defeating message in the primary.

“People want to win,” he continued. “They don’t want somebody who goes so far to the extremes of either party that they lack a chance to carry a victory off in November.” (Watch the clip below).

Rove always made sure Bush offered rhetorical gestures to the moderates of America — one of his first post-9/11 actions to visit a mosque and reject blanket blame of Muslims is an example, just like the Medicare prescription drug benefit was a more substantive instance of at least acknowledging the other political movements out there. Perry seems content to lambast the rest of America when he isn’t ignoring it. Whereas Bush employed moderation in defense of a mostly extreme governing approach, Perry would appear to be a hardliner through and through.


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