The Presidential debate yesterday was missing fully half of the competitors who will actually challenge for President, according to Thomas Beaumont’s analysis. The entry of Rick Perry into the race on Saturday will probably lead to a showdown between Perry and Romney. Perhaps Michele Bachmann can keep pace with those two, but it’s hard to argue with the analysis.

Conservatives who make up the core of the GOP primary base view Romney skeptically on cultural issues, and he hasn’t been able to establish himself as the heavy favorite for the nomination even though he’s spent months promoting his background as a businessman and claiming that he alone has the know-how to create jobs to pull the country out of a period of high unemployment, rampant foreclosures and tumultuous financial markets [...]

Enter Perry.

He is credible on issues social conservatives care about and sent a strong message to evangelicals last weekend by hosting a national prayer rally in Houston that drew roughly 30,000 Christians. He also has overseen a period of job growth in his state, making Texas one of the few states in the country that have posted economic gains and giving him the opportunity to challenge Romney’s pitch as the jobs candidate.

While no Republican Presidential candidate could be expected to deviate much from party orthodoxy in the future, however much they did in the past, so much of the GOP nomination fight will come down to credibility. Can you be a credible challenger to Barack Obama, and can you be credible to the conservative base to support their interests in lockstep? And Perry may be the most credible, when it comes down to it.

But let’s explain the nature of this credibility. In one interview last fall, Perry explained that:

• Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are “Ponzi schemes”;

• They are also unconstitutional, because “there’s no place in the Constitution that says Washington, D.C. is supposed to be mandated health-care coverage, for example.” When challenged on the “general welfare” clause, Perry says, “I don’t think our founding fathers when they were putting the term ‘general welfare’ in there were thinking about a federally operated program of pensions nor a federally operated program of health care.” When asked what the Founders meant by “general welfare”, then, Perry opted not to guess;

• Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and every other federal program should be turned into a block grant, with the states having full flexibility to determine how to use those dollars from the federal government;

• The 17th Amendment, providing for the direct election of Senators, forced the states to “hand over a significant chunk of their sovereignty to the federal government” because it took state legislatures out of the process. He did acknowledge that this was “secondary” to other conversations about federal responsibilities in Washington;

• Asked if government “can reverse the last 75 years of federal policy, Perry replies, “Sure. Absolutely they can.”

So that’s your Rick Perry, ladies and gentlemen: an amalgam of George W. Bush and Glenn Beck, essentially, someone who envisions the barest of roles for the federal government. In addition, his level of solutions apparently consist of asking for divine intervention:

“I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to God, and say, ‘God: You’re going to have to fix this,’” he said in a speech in May, explaining how some of the nation’s most serious problems could be solved.

I think this guy can’t lose the nomination.