Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime
For starters, what had been 5 has grown to 7--seemingly solid contenders a year ago like Florida governor Charlie Crist and Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal have fallen off the list altogether. Jeb Bush? We will have to take him at his word when he says America is suffering from "Bush Fatigue". So, without further ado...
Here's my take on who, in order, the top 7 prospects to win the Republican nomination in three years time are:
- Mitt Romney--Not much has changed from when I wrote this a year ago with regards to Romney in 2012:
Somewhat akin to the 1976 Republican nomination fight where an aging, tired Gerald Ford narrowly fended off what turned out to be the future of the party in California governor Ronald Reagan--who became the Godfather of the modern conservative movement--many Republicans today have McCain buyer's remorse and realize they should have nominated Romney. Ford went on to lose to Carter in 1976, just as McCain will lose to Obama in a few days. Romney has the benefit of being filthy rich, handsome, and young. Moreover, he's competent, and he is far and away the Republican front runner as it stands today for 2012. Romney's so smart that he probably smelled a loser from a mile away in McCain and should be thankful he didn't wind up on the present ticket. Did he make it clear to McCain that he didn't want the slot?? Maybe.I will only add this: Romney is clearly still the wealthiest of the group, and the GOP doesn't traditionally eat its own--the powers that be in the party usually loyally go with the 'next guy in line' weather that be losers like Dole in '96 or McCain last time around. The next guy in line, clearly, in 2012 is Romney.
- Mike Huckabee--In a sense former Arkansas governor and 2008 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee possesses many of the critical qualities that his chief rival for the nomination, Mitt Romney, does not: he's a Christian southerner (remember, Romney is a Morman) with Bill Clinton like retail politicking skills. Huckabee is at his best when he's deep in the middle of a crowd kissing every baby in sight. He's not wealthy, either, and has a populist, anti-elitist, anti Wall Street message that plays well to many in the GOP base these days. His problems? He's not the 'next in line', his campaign cash war chest will be dwarfed by Romney's, and it is a real stretch to see his appeal travelling very far from his Southern base. Can anyone really envision Republicans in New York or in California pulling the lever en masse for Mike Huckabee?
- Tim Pawlenty--The current governor of Minnesota is known for his moderate, pragmatic approach, but has been busy sprinting to the right these days to placate the wingnut, Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck loving base of the GOP. The ones who tend to actually turn out to vote on cold primary and caucus winter days. He's young, smart, and telegenic though and is the odds on favorite to be selected as Romney's eventual running mate--barring any blowups (aka 'Mark Sanfords'). The big question? Will Joe GOP Base Voter in Alabama or South Carolina trust a northerner like Pawlenty with his vote?
- John Thune--Every presidential nominating race has its' dark horse, and I have a feeling 2012's for the Republicans' will be John Thune--he's currently the GOP du jour among the chattering classes and is best known up to now for defeating then Senate Minority Leader Democrat Tom Daschle back in 2002 for the South Dakota Senate seat that he still occupies. Handome and having a reputation for being reasonably moderate, Thune in reality has a very small chance of winning the nomination this time around, but certainly will be a guy to watch and could wind up as the VP choice for the eventual nominee...
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- Sarah Palin--Yes, believe it or not, the former Alaskan governor merits the #5 spot here if for nothing else than the fact that Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh love her. In other words the right wing of the right wing: religious conservatives who don't believe in evolution or abortion, and believe President Obama is a Muslim who was born in Indonesia...that's the demographic that supports governor Palin, and there are millions of them. As the famous boxing promoter Don King has famously said, "Only in America..." That about sums up the Sarah Palin phenomenon.
- Newt Gingrich--The fact that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich makes this list speaks volumes about the state of the modern Republican party. Arguably the most divisive political figure of the late 80's and 90's, Gingrich--almost unfathomably, comes off as a voice of reason, a kind of elder statesman in today's GOP. To say his candidacy for president would be a monumental long shot would be putting it kindly. Paris Hilton has a greater chance of being our next president...
- Ron Paul--Known for being the Libertarian who made waves in the GOP nominating contest last time around by garnering impressive grassroots support and loudly disagreeing with the party's foreign policy dogma, Paul seems poised for an encore run this time around. Paul appeals to disenchanted voters from both parties with a simple message: government is the root of all evil. Paul's message makes complete sense for people who look for simple answers to complex problems. Your tuna sandwich just got 50 cents more expensive at the local diner? It's the government's fault. No health insurance? It's the government's fault. Global warming? The answer is less government. He stands as much of a chance of getting elected president as Ralph Nader did back in 2000. Which is exactly why his candidacy frightens the hell out of the GOP hierarchy and why he cannot be ignored. We all know what impact Nader eventually had on that contest....
So there you have it: the only certain thing about this list when I revise it next year is that it once again be vastly different--especially in the lower slots. In November of 2005 Barack Obama was serving his first year in the Senate. Very, very few people thought he would win the Democratic nomination three years later and go on to become elected president.
But for now, the smart money remains on Romney. Just as that same money was on Hillary Clinton at this point in the cycle last time around.
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