Its time for our Approximately Quarterly Almost Official Update on the
Republican presidential race. There have been some changes since last we
discussed the subject.
Lets start with the dearly departed.
The not-quite-brave-enough who dabbled at the prospect of a run and then
ran away from it are Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, Indiana
Congressman Mike Pence, South Dakota Senator John Thune and, most
recently, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. All demonstrated unusual
wisdom in dropping out.
Huckabees departure is especially significant given his appeal among
Republicans who describe themselves as evangelicals, a group that turns
out in big numbers for Republican presidential primaries. Those voters are
now up for grabs.
And, of course, Donald Trump has confirmed what many of us already knew;
he had no intention of running. His departure mostly benefits Republican
voters who will now be spared his self-aggrandizing blather.
On the opposite side of the ledger we have two official candidates,
Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, who is taking his third stab at the
presidency, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
Exploring a run are former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former
Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle
Bachmann, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and Herman Cain, the
former CEO of Godfathers Pizza and a talk radio host.
Not officially running or exploring but lurking around the fringes or
making lots of speeches in the early primary states are former Vice
Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, former
Utah Governor and Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, New Jersey Governor
Chris Christie and Wisconsin Congressman and budget guru Paul Ryan.
Quite a group.
We can eliminate Cain, Bachmann, Santorum, Christie, Paul and Ryan. They
lack name recognition, have no natural constituency and will never raise
the funds needed to mount an effective campaign. Paul has a loyal but too
small group of supporters and will likely hang around as a matter of
principle. Expect him to do about as well as he did in his two previous
That leaves us with Romney, Gingrich, Pawlenty, Daniels and Huntsman.
Daniels, Huntsman and Pawlenty are an interesting trio.
Mitch Daniels was Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)
under George W. Bush and has been a popular governor of Indiana despite
struggling with the states budget issues. Jon Huntsman, a thoughtful
conservative, was governor of the bright red state of Utah until accepting
President Obamas appointment as Ambassador to China. Former Minnesota
Governor Tim Pawlenty has solid New Right credentials and has become a bit
of a darling among the evangelical set. Any of the three would make a
legitimate opponent for President Obama but all lack name recognition, a
national organization and money.
Now were down to Romney and Gingrich.
Mitt Romney looks like he should be president. Hes been a successful
businessman and politician, has been campaigning for two solid years,
built a decent national organization, has the ability to raise money and
has consistently been at or near the top in early polling.
Hed be an attractive candidate in a General Election if he could somehow
get through the Republican primaries, but thats the rub. His advocacy of
healthcare reform in Massachusetts that included mandatory insurance for
everyone reminds too many Republicans of Obamacare (there are stark
differences but his opponents wont care) and, unfortunately, his Mormon
religion makes him untrustworthy in the eyes of many evangelicals. We
arent quite done with religious bigotry just yet.
Newt Gingrich will never be president. He is plenty smart and full of big
ideas but hes prone to grandiose statements few can understand and is
already being accused of flip-flopping on more than one issue. His
reputation for big ideas is accompanied by a reputation for never bringing
any of those ideas to fruition.
Gingrich is trying desperately to capitalize on Mike Huckabees departure
from the race by courting religious fundamentalists. But he has a real
problem with the large bloc of Republican women voters who describe
themselves as religious or very religious two unpleasant divorces and
tales of multiple affairs.
The former Speaker has also discovered an ugly truth about the 2012
Republican presidential politics there is a litmus test for everything.
Vary even slightly from acceptable dogma and risk being called a traitor
to all that is righteous. Gingrich made the mistake of tepidly criticizing
Paul Ryans draconian approach to Medicare and was immediately excoriated
by several darlings of the New Right. Newt had a different idea but the
GOP believes they dont need any new ideas since the Ryan plan was
apparently etched in granite and brought down from on high.
I know. Ive left out Sarah Palin. There is little reason for her to run.
Her weaknesses as a candidate far outweigh her strengths and her negative
poll numbers are daunting. A recent Quinnipiac University poll of
registered voters who have formed an opinion of the candidates found that
a staggering 58% of respondents said they would never vote for Palin.
Thats not such a good start. Her infatuation with celebrity, at least so
far, appears to outweigh her desire to jump into the rigors of a national
campaign. Why become a target when you can tweet potshots from the safety
of the sidelines?
Were now just 18 months from the 2012 elections. The Republican field is
still a muddle of posturing and positioning. The endless trips to New
Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina are well underway. The petty sniping
Whoever emerges as the Republican nominee, and it may well be someone not
currently on the above or any other list, faces a formidable challenge.
Awaiting is a well-organized, effective campaigner who is also the best
fundraiser in American political history Barack Obama. His re-election
team is talking about raising $1 billion. Thats $1,000,000,000. He will
exploit every advantage of his incumbency and if the economy improves
enough to restore just a glimmer of confidence in the country he will be
extraordinarily difficult to beat.
Well check back in a few months to see how much Republican blood has been
spilled and which candidates, if any, are still standing.