Happy trails, Rick Perry

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is frequently compared to George W. Bush, a fellow Republican Texas governor who went on to serve two undistinguished terms as president of the United States. But that’s a grave insult to Bush. Perry, who dropped out of the GOP presidential race Thursday, is far more divisive, inarticulate, insular and insensitive than Bush ever was, which is why his departure from the national political scene is good news for everybody but late-night comedians.

But it’s better for one man than anybody else: Newt Gingrich. The former speaker of the House has been surging in the polls recently, and on his way out the door Perry threw his support to Gingrich, calling him “a conservative visionary who can transform our country.” That’s pretty much in line with the way Gingrich describes himself, pointing out at every opportunity that he is the only one who can beat President Obama in November. “I don’t want to bloody his nose,” Gingrich told supporters in South Carolina on Tuesday. “I want to knock him out.”

Unfortunately for Gingrich, polls show that voters don’t have quite as high an opinion of the former history professor as he does. A CBS/New York Times poll of registered voters out Wednesday shows that in a matchup between Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the candidates would tie at 45% of the vote, whereas Obama would crush Gingrich, 50% vs. 39%. That’s similar to the results of a poll by the Angus Reid Public Opinion company released Thursday, which showed Romney beating Obama by 2 percentage points, while Obama would bloody Gingrich’s nose by 17 points.

A big part of the conservative electorate can’t stomach Romney, and since last summer has been casting about so desperately for an alternative that at one point even Perry — who defends Marines who urinate on the corpses of enemy fighters, calls Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” and was flatter in his debate performances than a freeway armadillo — emerged as the front-runner. If Gingrich wins or even comes close to winning in South Carolina, he will be anointed as that alternative. But it would be ironic if the answer to the prayers of conservatives turned out to be the answer to those of liberals as well; as it stands now, Obama’s political advisors would much rather run against Gingrich than Romney.

Of course, public opinion is almost certain to have shifted by November, and Gingrich could still emerge as a highly viable candidate regardless of the titillating tidbits from his past, such as Thursday’s revelation by his ex-wife that he had asked her for an “open marriage” so he could continue an affair with the woman who later became his current wife. For our part, we’re just relieved that there’s no longer any danger of another tough-talking, ideologically blinkered Texan in the White House.