In May, I used these column inches to offer my take on the Republican presidential primary. I dismissed all but four GOP hopefuls as having no chance at the nomination. The four men I thought had a path to victory were Mitch Daniels, Jon Huntsman, Mitt Romney, and Tim Pawlenty.
Daniels chose not to put his family through the ordeal, which I expected. Huntsman and Romney remain in the race, and Pawlenty dropped out in August.
First, a note about the candidates I didn’t and still don’t consider legitimate contenders for the nomination.
Rick Santorum remains lost at the bottom of the field. Michelle Bachmann polled well over the summer but crashed back to Earth as many people began to realize she lacks the intellectual fortitude to handle the nuclear launch codes.
Rick Perry rocketed to the top of the field after he jumped into the race in August, but his rise ended as quickly as it began when everyone collectively noticed that Perry might be less capable of handling the complexities of the Presidency than Congresswoman Bachmann.
Herman Cain struck a chord with voters for a few weeks, but his inability to talk about anything other than “9-9-9” hurt him almost as much as the parade of women that rode in to allege sexual misconduct.
Ron Paul has cult following, but he doesn’t speak to enough of the country to win a national primary or general election.
Newt Gingrich is doing better than most people probably anticipated, myself included, but he still won’t win the nomination. Gingrich has too many skeletons in his closet, and his personality will soon wear on voters who want to at least not hate the man for whom they are voting. No one talked about his issues until he came to the front of the pack, but those issues will weigh him down.
It’s important to remember polls mean nothing at this point in the game. At the end of November 2007, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson were first and second in the national polls. They won a combined zero primaries in 2008.
Back to the two men with a chance: Jon Huntsman might seem laughable to you as a serious contender given his numbers are uninspiring. But recent polls have him climbing in New Hampshire, and he remains the strongest candidate against President Obama in November.
He has money, a strong record as governor, legitimate foreign policy
experience as ambassador to China, and his only “negatives” are his moderate views on gay rights, climate change and evolution.
As frustration with the GOP lineup mounts, people might take a second look at
Huntsman. I’d wager he could beat Obama in a landslide and on the hottest issue of the moment – the economy. His record is as strong as anyone in the race. Don’t write him off if you’re playing at home.
Romney is the clear favorite at this point, however. As all of his counterparts boomed and busted in the polls, he quietly hovered near the top. He’s been running for six years, and while no one is in love with Romney, he looks presidential and up to the task.
He doesn’t make stupid mistakes and his only real baggage is healthcare. He’s stayed on top through it all. Attack after attack after attack, no one has been able to displace Romney.
But I return to former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty who bowed out after the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa. He came in third behind Bachmann and Paul, two unelectable candidates.
If you know presidential nomination history like I do, you know the GOP always argues over four or five polarizing candidates and then decides on someone completely different whom all factions can live with.
That man was, and still is, Pawlenty. The current race would be perfect for him. A more authentic candidate than Romney with no healthcare baggage. Conservative, but electable in a general election. Perfect for the moment.
Yet Pawlenty must of have missed that lesson in electoral history, so he’s standing behind Romney instead of in front of the pack.
So if you’re trying to make sense of this at home, here are the important points. Gingrich will crash and burn, Romney will survive. Huntsman could be a dark horse candidate to watch if his progress in New Hampshire continues. He might get a second look at the perfect time.
So if you’re a Democrat looking for a fight, target Romney. If you’re a Republican looking to fall in love, maybe next time.
The drama of the 2012 campaign won’t be in the GOP primary, it’ll be in the general election, so stayed tuned for that.