As if proof were needed of what passes for GOP mettle these days, word apparently went out among the troops that there’s to be no pussyfooting about who represents the party in the hot 2012 White House stakes. So that when Gallup did a poll recently of the GOP faithful, none other than the firebrand Texas governor Rick Perry emerged as the party’s new frontrunner. And late entrant though he was, Perry is now being touted as the man to beat as Republican standard bearer. If nothing else, Perry will at least not provoke talk, even among GOP partisans, that unlike Mitt Romney who now has been relegated to second place, he won’t be “boringly” proceeding to the nomination.

Three years ago Republicans found themselves settling for a candidate who wasn’t truly representative of the brand, ideologically. As the inevitability of John McCain as the party’s choice imposed itself, it became, for many in the ranks, a disturbing condition that was only partly assuaged by inclusion on the ticket of a featherweight oddball from caribou country, programmed to spew the requisite social conservative buzz words. Among the several factors contributing to Obama’s ’08 victory was that flatlining of energy on the GOP side, occasioned by a nominee thought to be glaringly short of their acceptability level.

Where Romney figured to be a McCain reprise, Perry is obviously seen as a genuine counterweight to Obama. Not to mention that while Obama’s opposition in ’08 could only speculate as to what his policies might produce, this time around there’s the presidential record to attack ad nauseam. But even as Republicans and Tea Partiers lick their chops in anticipation of hitting the arena with a gladiator they think really capable of delivering the goods, a gaffe-prone Perry, in the few weeks since he’s been officially in the mix, has already begun to give some in that support base the willies.

Perry has drawn fire even from Republicans for his hoof-in-mouth episodes. Not surprisingly, his “treasonous” cheap shot at Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, a George W. Bush appointee, earned him no hosannas from former Bush administration figures. His assertion that global warming was a scientific theory that had not yet been proven elicited from the camp of fellow contender for the nomination Jon Huntsman the retort that, “We will not win any national election if we become the anti-science party.” And his quip, when asked if he believed President Obama loved this country, that the question should be directed to the president, of course flunked him miserably in the good taste department.

It matters little to what extent Perry can be coached to avoid more of the same as the long campaign season grinds on. And who cares whether outlandishness on this order is vintage Perry which Texans have been conditioned to abide without batting an eye? Fact is, this small window on the man that the rest of us have been given has placed him unalterably in “loose cannon” territory. It’s very doubtful that there would be found in Perry the capability, constitutionally, to act more “presidential,” as some, even on his side of the divide, have urged of him following those faux pas, which he evidently sees as not the least bit alarming.

A Democratic-aligned commentator noted on TV the other day that the Dems preferred first choice of an opponent would be Michele Bachmann (she having herself made frontrunner noises recently), and their second choice would be Perry. Such analysis, if accurate, means that Democrats are betting on civility in the public square having the better of demagoguery in copious supply polluting the airwaves when GOP combatants like Bachmann and Perry get fight-to-the-finish clearance for their battle with the other side.

Perry’s conduct, to this point, as one bidding for national leadership, shows him to be hopelessly deficient in the required attributes. He is as typical a representative as one might conjure of the right-side screamer – the kind of uncompromising, fanatical ideologue more focused on pursuing an extremist agenda than in governance; the kind that brought Congress to that new low recently in those pathetic goings-on in the debt-ceiling debacle.

That Bachmann could win that dinky Iowa straw poll a couple of weeks ago and Romney’s more sane approach is bested by Perry, offer a clear read of where the energy is in the Republican Party. One would expect that element to pull out all the stops to ensure that the nomination goes to the “right” guy. No doubt about it, we’re solidly into a “lunacy sells” frame right now.

Ordinarily, a soberness among independents and others considered middle of the road could be counted on to offset a spate of wildness that results in the likes of a Perry enjoying this sort of national attention. But the ravages of economic contraction are an X factor in the 2012 follies, for which common sense might very well be no match at all. The emergence of a Rick Perry simply underscores how critical is the need for an economic reversal, in particular, in those deflating unemployment numbers.

Perry’s emergence does something else which, a few years ago we hardly would have thought possible. Who would have dared speculate that so quickly onto the national scene would come a player even more scary than the Texan who preceded Obama? Silly season is here, folks.

More from Around NYC