How This Weekend Changed the Republican Race

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Reihan Salam, columnist at The Daily and blogger for National Review Online's The Agenda, breaks down Saturday's Iowa Straw Poll and the other weekend news, from Rick Perry entering the fray to Tim Pawlenty dropping out.

Big win for Bachmann?

The Republican who wins the Ames Straw Poll doesn't usually go on to win the White House; Iowa's electorate is more traditional, rural and evangelical than the rest of the nation, which may explain why Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann came out on top this weekend over front-runner Mitt Romney.

That steam has built behind Bachmann's campaign is undeniable. With the first victory under her belt, the question now becomes how to maintain the momentum. Reihan Salam said that Bachmann's hard-line anti-spending rhetoric got her here; now she needs to explain how austerity would beget prosperity.

Connecting her ideas very specifically with the jobs crisis hasn't been her strong suit so far; that's something she'll have to demonstrate in the very near future, or she's going to be seen as a less viable candidate, particularly as someone else with populist credentials enters the Republican presidential fray.

Why Pawlenty bowed out

During Thursday's debate, Bachmann traded barbs with fellow Minnesotan Tim Pawlenty, who would place a distant third in the Ames Straw Poll two days later. The first major campaign test turned out to be Pawlenty's last, as the former Governor announced on Sunday that he would no longer seek the nomination. Salam said that Pawlenty's position on the political spectrum wasn't distinguished enough, as he ran to the right of Mitt Romney, but not as far right as Bachmann or newly-introduced candidate Rick Perry.

There just wasn't much space for him there. He wasn't running the kind of centrist campaign we outlined in 2008, and I think that prevented him from having a more distinctive place in the field. I think his timing wasn't that good, and he tried to be something he was not, much as Mitt Romney arguably did in 2008.

Rick Perry: The 'best first sentence' in politics

As if tapping in for Tim Pawlenty, Texas Governor Rick Perry announced he would be joining the Republican presidential race over the weekend. Presiding over statewide unemployment rate of 8 percent—lower than the national average—and having closed a $27 billion budget gap, Perry's got more than enough in his resume to make him interesting to Republican voters. He's already being called a candidate to beat.

"[Perry]'s got the best first sentence in American politics, which is, 'I created one-third of the jobs in America in the last two years,'" said conservative strategist Mike Murphy on Sunday's Meet the Press. "His problem is the second sentence, which is, 'They're all at Burger King or the government created them.'" Salam explained:

He has a reasonable first sentence, but as Mike Murphy suggests, what is his second sentence? That's going to be a problem. Texas is a state with very robust population growth and that accounts for a fair bit of job growth that's happened, some of which was in the public sector. There are many ways in which he's departed from what we think of as classically conservative policy, so there are a lot of questions about that for the governor.

How much of the state's job growth can be attribute to Perry's policies, and how would those policies play with Republican voters if they emphasized public sector employment? Another question that Salam raised: Perry closed the budget gap, but from where did that budget gap come?

Rick Perry has been Governor of Texas since 2000, so one has to wonder why you had this urgent correction, given that he's had his hand on the tiller for so long.