An Update on the 2012 Field: Or, Seriously? This is our Field?

I grow more confident by the day that it will take one of those miracles you read about in the Bible for the Republicans to have a candidate who can actually compete with Barack Obama in 2012.  He is completely beatable, and in fact, the electoral math suggests that this actually be a very, very promising scenario for Republicans.  The economy is not, and will not be, in a position to be an advantage for the Democrats.  Every time a Democrat was elected President in my lifetime, he was running as a candidate to improve the economy (2008, 1992, and 1976).  That is not going to be the case this time.  And yet, with all that said, with an electoral map very likely to look more red in 2012 than it did in 2008, and coming off the biggest bloodbath for an incumbent party in a mid-term election, I am almost positive that Barack Obama is going to be re-elected.  And the singular reason for my unbridled pessimism?

It will take a candidate to beat Obama, and a candidate the GOP does not have (yet).

Gov. Mike Huckabee predictably announced he was not in the field Saturday night.  This will be good news for fiscal conservatives, who found Huckabee to be a little centrist for their liking, but it also changes the landscape for Iowa, where our charade of a nomination process kicks off.  I like the Governor, personally, but believe he had no chance of ever being elected, though actually believe that between a strong likeability and much more national name recognition than he had in 2008, he may very well have won the nomination.

The supposed narrative we are to be reading alleges that Mitt Romney is now the front-runner.  And I tend to agree with this one thing that Newt Gingrich said on Sunday: Mitt may very well be the front-runner, but that is a statement of his fundraising ability and personal fortune, not his legitimacy as a candidate.  If Romney does end up winning the nomination, it will be very good for my golf game in the summer and fall of 2012, because I promise you there will be no reason to pay attention to the election (and I won’t even know what to do with myself if the summer and fall of every fourth year in American life is not filled with Presidential election obsession).  He also is by no means a shoo-in for the nomination.  He has an uncanny ability to turn more voters off the more money he spends.  This health care issue is not going away: He has doubled down on his bizarre position that even though his bill has been a disaster at controlling costs in his state, the bill was still a good one because it was only a state mandate, not a Federal one.  His exasperation at defending his position is growing every day, and his speech last Thursday night may have been enough to keep him out of the fray of this nomination process.  Republicans running off of the energy created from Obama’s health care atrocity are simply dead if they nominate the guy who did what Obama did before Obama did it.  Romney is a handsome man, and he has managerial successes on his resumes.  But Bain Capital was a success because they were masterful at cutting costs (read: firing people), and I just believe that he has never gotten the fight from the left that he would get if push came to shove because they have not ever felt threatened by him.  So Romney has two sides to worry about if he really wanted to get to the White House: (a) The right, which will not forgive his flip-floppy, Reagan-rejecting, ObamaCare-passing; and (b) The left, which will tar and feather him for his religious convictions (which will cause me to defend him), his business background (Bain Capital was not Walt Disney, my friends), and the failure of his single term as Governor in Massachusttes.n

Newt seems to have totally discredited himself in his very first weekend as an official candidate, which is disappointing because I wanted to discredit him myself in this week’s blog.  He is actually the most gifted candidate in the race in terms of rhetoric and conservative ideology.  He is right to frame the debate about the vision of America, and where we see the country going.  But what is simply bizarre about this candidate is the disconnect between his rhetoric and his real life record.  He reiterated for David Gregory on Meet the Press this weekend that he does believe in a Federal mandate to buy health insurance, a concession that he simply has to understand is tantamount to forfeiting the entire debate.  His past climate change efforts are an embarrassment.  His support for Medicare Part D (the prescription drug benefit) is indefensible.  And that personal stuff is not so hot either …  Essentially, his candidacy is not going anywhere, and if it did obviously there is no chance that he could beat President Obama.  However, even though he could not beat him in an election, he certainly could in a debate.

Herman Cain was quite impressive in the South Carolina debate, and I do wonder if he has enough grass-roots support to come out of nowhere.  He is a dynamic speaker, and if the country were to ever decide that it really wanted a businessman as its President, rather than a lifetime politician, he could be a surprise candidate.  But I very much doubt that he has the infrastructure, financing, or national brand to launch a serious campaign.  I think he will change some of those things throughout the primary, but no, I do not see him being a serious player at this time.

Rick Santorum is a very nice man who did some great things for the partial birth abortion ban cause in this country (stop and think for a moment that as recently as 15 years ago we were having a passionate fight about partial birth abortion; today, you can’t even find someone on the street willing to say that they support it).  But he is certainly not a legitimate candidate, though I do wonder if he will make a little noise in Iowa with Huckabee out.

I am more and more convinced that Sarah Palin is going to do the right thing and sit this one out.  If, indeed, she does make the decision to stay out of it, she should be commended.  Sarah is going to play a big role in certain aspects of the national political scene.  She hampers those efforts by launching a really bad primary campaign.

So this is sort of my take on the election now: If somehow, someway, Tim Pawlenty or Mitch Daniels can generate some real buzz, then perhaps this thing may change.  I am very, very pessimistic about that happening.  I would probably lean more towards Pawlenty than Daniels personally, which is kind of good since Pawlenty is actually in the race, and Daniels is not.  But Pawlenty was a serious tax-cutter in Minnesota who simultaneously balanced budgets and cut spending (huh?  how can that be so?).  He was elected in a blue state twice, and is broad appeal for independents and middle-class working Republicans.  His downside is that he still is so unfunded, unknown, and unexciting.  He is trying on that last point, but it does not come naturally to him.  He may very well be a formidable opponent for Obama that will never get the chance.   I hope that is not the case.  With Mitch Daniels, I keep hearing people say he would be a legitimate deal, but he has still not announced any kind of intention to run. 

My summary – I am open to Daniels getting something going; I am more on the Pawlenty bus than I have been, but do not see that as being adequate to win; I have as certain as can be that Romney can not win this; and I think Newt is a done deal.  I think the idea of Mike Pence in 2016 is making more and more sense.