Romney and Perry already throwing jabs at each other

Light jabs for now, but the thought of a duel between Mr. Texas and the architect of RomneyCare ought to send grassroots hearts a-flutterin’. Ross Douthat described Perry today as “the conservative id made flesh.” (See, for example, this.) Imagine the feeling when that id is fully indulged with an out-and-out Romney/Perry war.

As Mr. Perry walked along the midway at the Iowa State Fair, a reporter asked if he had any reaction to a Monday comment by Mr. Romney, who was in New Hampshire touring a small manufacturer: “I think understanding how the economy works by having worked in the real economy is finally essential for the White House, and I hope people recognize that,” Mr. Romney told reporters, according to the Boston Globe. Mr. Romney was an executive at Bain Capital before running Massachusetts.

Mr. Perry responded: “Texas is the real economy.”

Later in the day, the governor went a bit further, according to The New York Times: “Take a look at his record when he was governor. Take a look at my record,” Mr. Perry said, adding later, “Running a state is different than running a business.”

When reporters pressed him on Romney’s point about private-sector experience, Perry blew kisses at the cameras and snarked, “Give him my love.” Obviously what you’re seeing here is a preview of Perry’s grand campaign strategy, which will be to ignore Bachmann to whatever extent possible and engage with Romney. By doing that, he elevates himself to the same stature as the ostensible frontrunner while slyly nudging Bachmann to the fringe. And not just Bachmann but Iowa too: If Perry can leap past Romney and lead in multiple states, as seems inevitable based on some of the new polling, then the caucuses will seem increasingly irrelevant even if Bachmann hangs onto her lead over him for the next few months. Romney’s preparing for a long, 50-state race based on proportional apportionment of delegates; the more it looks like Perry is best poised, financially and politically, to compete with him in that race, the less Iowa matters.

And as for the substance of Romney’s critique, that it takes someone with real-world business practice to manage an economic recovery, Perry can be cheeky and point to the fact that the economy under Clinton — another southern governor with lots of experience — did okay even though he was the consummate professional politician. (Just don’t mention the tax rates!) Speaking of which, here’s Clinton himself warning an audience not to be suckered into supporting Perry just because he’s a “good-looking rascal.” After all, you know how those good-looking rascals can be.