Rick Perry is sitting at or near the top of the GOP field mainly because of George W. Bush, writes Steve Kornacki in Salon. But it's not just because of the obvious— that Perry became governor of Texas when Bush defeated Al Gore. "It has to do with the ultimate failure of the Bush presidency, which was instrumental in bringing about today’s radicalized Republican Party base—a transformation that Perry spotted early and that he has capitalized on brilliantly," writes Kornacki.
Bush fashioned himself as a "compassionate conservative," and Republicans went along because they desperately wanted to win the White House after eight years of Bill Clinton. But when Bush's poll numbers tanked in his second term and Republicans got routed in the 2006 midterms, party leaders blamed Bush's "compassionate" big-spending ways and demanded ideological purity of their candidates. "It was in this climate that the Republican Party as we know it today and Rick Perry as we know him today were both born," writes Kornacki. The Texas governor knows exactly what the power-brokers want—pure, anti-big-government conservatism—and he's delivering. Click to read the full column. (Read more Rick Perry 2012 stories.)