Rick Perry: The Republican Party’s last best hope …

The Republican nomination and the 2012 election all comes down to this: South Carolina. Who wins the South Carolina primary will win the nomination. I think Mitt Romney can beat Barack Obama. I think Rick Perry can. I don’t see anyone else in the wings coming close. Romney is stuck at 24 percent. He will do well in New Hampshire. Not so well in South Carolina. The question now comes down to this: Can Rick Perry win South Carolina? Three months ago it seemed like a slam-dunk. Then Herman Cain awakened in the polls. So the question advances now: Will Herman Cain win the South Carolina primary?

Herman Cain represents old, reliable, pre-World War II conservative, Southern conventions. It was interesting that when he was accused of sexual misconduct he was also asked to sing at an event; odd, even embarrassing, and he sang a verse of “Amazing Grace,” the one that seeks salvation for the flawed wretch. They in the Deep South get it and Cain knows it. But up here in the North it feels like Adam Clayton Powell double-talk.

If you look at Cain’s personal style and his cultivated political persona, it is, like the fedora he proudly sports, pure 1950s. That is the intended subtext of the misguided smoking ad which brought Cain’s smiling (or smirking) approval. And that has appeal to a party that sees value in turning back time (maybe he should have sung that Cher tune). There is a special giddy relish to some to see this coming from a black man. In fact, there are so many ways, subtle and gross, in which Cain appeals to the Republicans’ dark side.

Recently, Richard Viguerie wrote an article indicating that many conservatives and Tea Partiers are unlikely to vote for Romney, the “establishment” candidate, even in a general election against President Obama.

“Conservatives and Tea Partiers have brought the Republican Party back to the point where the promised land of an historic wave election is in sight,” he wrote, “but that opportunity may be lost if the GOP hews to the old establishment ways and old establishment leaders.”

But Cain personifies that old generation of flawed leaders even more than Romney; he is almost a caricature of the flawed establishment. The only candidate on stage who can consolidate the tradition with the Tea Party is Rick Perry.

More may be at stake here. When the South moved en masse to the Republican Party in the Reagan period it was a historic moment. The 2012 election will tell if it was an action of growth, maturation and even cultural salvation, as Viguerie suggests, or one of violent and apocalyptic self-destruction. South Carolina will tell.