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:

Declared

  • 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

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