Handicapping the Pitter-Pattering Herd

My, my, my.Things are getting SO interesting over on the other side of the aisle.  Seems like not a day goes by but some GOP wannabe announces his/her intentions – or at least their intention to announce their intentions – regarding the 2012 presidential race.

By my count, we’ve got at least a dozen actual or likely candidates seeking the GOP nomination, a number not unheard of but certainly big enough to give debate organizers fits for at least the next six months (I expect the field will actually start to thin well before the first real vote is cast in a single Iowa precinct as candidates fail the fundraising challenge).

Here’s the breakdown as it currently stands:


  • Herman Cain, former Godfather’s exec, radio host
  • Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House
  • Gary Johnson, former Governor of New Mexico
  • Ron Paul, Member of Congress
  • Tim Pawlenty, former Governor of Minnesota

Likely to Declare

  • Michelle Bachmann, Member of Congress
  • Jon Huntsman, former Governor of Utah, former Ambassador to China
  • Sarah Palin, former Governor of Alaska
  • Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts
  • Rick Santorum, former Senator

Might Declare

  • Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New York
  • Rick Perry, Governor of Texas

Probably Won’t Run*

  • Haley Barbour, Governor of Mississippi
  • Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida
  • Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey
  • Mitch Daniels, Governor of Indiana
  • Jim DeMint, Senator
  • Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas
  • Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana
  • Mike Pence, Member of Congress
  • John Thune, Senator
  • Donald Trump, businessman

*Yes, a number of these individuals have said, “No, no, no” but if you really think they won’t change their mind and run over their grandmother if they see a plausible path to the Oval Office, you are too trusting for the rough and tumble of this blog.  Try this instead.

If you notice one common theme in this list, there’s a lot of people looking for something to do with their time.  Not many of the “frontrunners” are current officeholders. To the contrary, for most of those already in the pool or standing on the deck in their skivvies, running for president is their job.  Maybe that’s just good sense or maybe its an indication how underwhelming the current crop truly is.  When you think of Mitch Daniels as your off-stage savior, that’s a pretty good sign you’ve done a pretty piss-poor job of casting.

I suspect some of those who have decided to be out are staying in their cabanas because they contemplated the near impossibility of navigating both the Republican nomination process and the general election campaign in a single year.  The qualities and positions that seem most likely to attract and energize “the base” of the Republican party are guaranteed to be buzz kills for most of the general electorate (which, if you remember, is composed in near-equal numbers of “people who hate liberals,” “people who hate conservatives” and “people who hate everybody”).

For most of the last 40 years or so, electoral politics in the US has consisted driving hard to the edge to capture your party’s nomination (witness John McCain shedding everything that made him a “maverick”) and then trying to come back to the center for the general election.  If you do this successfully, you turn out your base of “people who hate the other guys” while simultaneously convincing – temporarily at least – most of the “hate everybodies” that they hate the other guys more than you (witness Bush 2004 and Obama 2008).

2012, however, promises to be an exceedingly difficult year in which to pull off this maneuver, particularly for the Republicans.  The party’s base has skewed so far to the right in this cycle that a “right-then-left” swerve looks to be almost neck-breaking.  By contrast, Obama – who almost certainly will have no intraparty opposition – can have a very gentle “S-curve” that reminds his base why he’s their man and still play to the middle.

Not many candidates in the current crop of “ins,” “outs” and “maybes” can manage such a maneuver, but there are a few to my eye.  To help us all visualize this, I’ve plotted each on two left-to-right scales that go from “no way” on the left to “could do it” on the right.  The first one looks at the possibility of capturing the nomination, the second at the possibility of winning the general election and the third highlights the only candidates who are on the right side of both scales.

(Click on the graphic to get a version you can actually read);

Quibble all you want with my placement of your favorite candidates.  I have my reasons for each which I’ll spare you here (this is already long enough). Suffice it to say that nearly all of the candidates gobbling up the media coverage these days can’t be nominated, can’t win a general or both.

Romney, Huntsman, Santorum and…Pawlenty (much as it pains me to admit it though he is the least likely of the three).  Two Mormons, a Catholic and an evangelical Baptist who used to be a Catholic.  A Westerner, Two Eatsterners and a Midwesterner.  Four white guys.  Three lawyers and a guy who played keyboards for Wizard (and, yes, did get an undergrad degree in international relations). Barely a pulse among them.  No wonder “none of the above” is polling so well.

I’m not sure America is ready for an all-Mormon ticket so the most likely combinations are Huntsman/Santorum or a Romney/Pawlenty ticket (assuming the nominee doesn’t go rogue with a Palinesque pick).

A lot can happen in the next year, of course, but right now I’m guessing the A-team oppo research teams in Obama’s Chicago HQ are on these four guys.

Personally, I think a Trump/Bachmann ticket is perfect for the Republicans.  I’m totally serious. Go for it, gang.  America will thank you for it.

– Austin

15 thoughts on “Handicapping the Pitter-Pattering Herd

  1. PM says:

    I’m thinking about going to Iowa to work for Bachmann–probably the only way we will ever be rid of her here in MN is to pawn her off on the rest of the country.

    But, seriously, i have only two minor quibbles with you–while Santorum could possibly get the nomination, i think he has no chance at all of winning the general election. and while Huntsman could possibly win the general election, I think he has no chance of winning the nomination.

    Oh, and there is one major quibble–I think that the republican nominee will be someone who does not have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting elected. I think that they are going to decide to follow their heart and not their head, and i think that the elites are going to allow an unelectable to get the nomination so that they can finally put a stake in the heart of the whackos after Palin/Bachmann/Cain/Santorum/paul/Trump/DeMint/Thune/Gingrich? whoever go down in flames in the worst defeat since Barry Goldwater. The real game is who can survive this train wreck with sufficient credibility to be the nominee in 2016. Then watch for Jeb Bush to step up and volunteer to save the party from itself.

    OTOH, as Clinton proved in 1992 when all of the smart money said that GHWBIII was untouchable….sometimes lightning does strike in the same place twice.

  2. I think it will be very tough for anyone to be right enough and center enough to both capture the nomination and run a credible general election campaign. Santorum might not be able to pull off the move.

    Perry could do it, but he’s late to the table. That’s why I rated him more likely to capture the general than the nomination.

    – Austin

  3. Newt says:

    If the GOP can’t beat someone presiding over the worst economy since the Great Depression, America deserves what it re-elects.

    1. Newt says:

      Today’s headlines:

      Private Sector Jobs Grew By Only 38,000 in May…

      Planned Layoffs Up…

      Manufacturing Slows…

    2. Newt says:

      CNBC …

      Wall Street is having a hard time figuring out what to do now that the U.S. economy appears to be sputtering and yields are so low, Peter Yastrow, market strategist for Yastrow Origer, told CNBC.

      “What we’ve got right now is almost near panic going on with money managers and people who are responsible for money,” he said. “They can not find a yield and you just don’t want to be putting your money into commodities or things that are punts that might work out or they might not depending on what happens with the economy.

      “We need to find real yield and real returns on these assets. You see bad data, you see Treasurys rally, you see all bonds and all fixed-income rally and then the people who are betting against the U.S. economy start getting bearish on stocks. That’s a huge mistake.”

      Stocks extended losses after the manufacturing fell below expectations in May and the private sector added only 38,000 jobs during the month.

      “Interest rates are amazingly low and that, thanks to Ben Bernanke, is driving everything,” Yastrow said. “We’re on the verge of a great, great depression. The [Federal Reserve] knows it.

      “We have many, many homeowners that are totally underwater here and cannot get out from under. The technology frontier is limited right now. We definitely have an innovation slowdown and the economy’s gonna suffer.”

      However, he said he wouldn’t sell stocks.

      “Any bears out there better be careful because the dividend yields on these stocks look awesome relative to all the other investment vehicles out there,” Yastrow said. “So bears are going to have to find a new way to express their discontent with the U.S. economy.”

  4. john sherman says:

    The field would be a little more impressive if we could have the version of several of the candidates from a few years back when they believed in a universal mandate and cap and trade.

  5. Minnesotan says:

    Rick Santorum has a pretty interesting communications issue on his hands if he wants to run for president. If you’re not familiar, here’s the clean version:

    His anti-gay views upset very popular advice columnist Dan Savage so much that Savage asked his readers to create a definition of the term Santorum. As you can imagine, the term is very unflattering, and very popular on the Internet.

    Now, if you’re not familiar with Savage you’re probably asking yourself “Who? So what?” Well, Savage is becoming more and more popular. If you’ve seen the “It Gets Better” PSA’s about bullying gay kids, he is the first person profiled.

    Worse yet for Santorum, the page that was developed based on the unsavory definition of Rick Santorum is one of the first Google search results, even higher than Santorum’s personal page.

    In short, for many people Santorum is a punchline. And for many people looking to learn more about him and his presidential chops, one of the first things they’ll find is a very unflattering page. Here’s a little more info from the WashingtonPost:

    Quite frankly, I find the whole situation pretty funny.

  6. PM says:

    Jon; Here is the latest from Nate Silver, who addresses half of your post directly, with a Republican “unacceptability” index. Romney, Pawlenty, Bachmann and Cain score the best in this (have the smallest number of republicans hating them–meaning that they would be most likely to be among the “survivors” of the Republican primaries). Santorum comes next, but with 34% of the Republicans unlikely to vote for him under almost any circumstance.

    The only place where Silver really disagrees with your analysis is about Jon Huntsman, who has an unacceptability score of 51%–worse than Gingrich and Palin and just about everybody else.

    Congratulations! I’d say that is pretty good!

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