I am beginning to wonder if Obama is even smarter than we thought.
Until recently, Mitt Romney would have been considered the frontrunner for the 2012 GOP nomination: he consistently wins straw polls among Republicans, he has the money to run, and he does okay against Obama in head-to-head polling (although Obama still leads).
But by winning passage of health care reform, Obama has seriously damaged Mitt Romney’s chances -- by drawing attention to the fact that the Democrats will soon give America a health care plan which is very similar to the plan that Romney enacted as governor. Which means that Romney will have a tough time campaigning against Obama’s signature legislative achievement, and that the other Republicans will rip Romney apart in the primaries, because they have been likening Obamacare to some sort of Stalinist apocalypse.
According to Intrade, the following candidates are reasonable bets to compete seriously for the Republican nomination in 2012.
Romney, the favorite at 26 percent. But his problems are mounting: the teabag core of the party dislikes him, he is a notorious flipflopper, and they will dislike him even more once they realize that the Obamacare plan is very similar to Romneycare. So his prospects have indeed taken a serious hit.
Palin, with a 23 percent chance. Outside the party base, she is seen as an unqualified buffoon, but those party loyalists who vote in the primaries worship her. Once Romney’s shortcomings catch up to him, she could be top dog again.
Thune, 18 percent. The fact that he is a factor at all shows how weak the big-name candidates are. He is a little-known hard-core evangelical with antediluvian beliefs on abortion and gays, and his only real claim to fame is pushing a law which offers billions to his former railroad clients from his days as a lobbyist. And he has pretty John-Edwards hair. He’s essentially Dan Quayle, but a little smarter and a lot more crooked. He is probably measuring himself for a VP nomination already, like Pawlenty and Jindal were in 2008.
Pawlenty, 10 percent. His stock dropped like a rock once the teabaggers realized he wasn’t one of them, and in part because Al Franken ended up getting certified as Senator.
Huckabee, 5 percent. Dropped way down, in part because some of the prisoners who sentences he commuted turned out to be seriously bad seeds.
1. Only Palin and Romney can really depend on finding or raising money (and perhaps Newt or Barbour).
2. Only Palin can guarantee a big crowd wherever she goes.
3. Only Romney and Huckabee poll within single digits of Obama, head to head.
4. Only Romney, Palin, Huckabee and Gingrich have the support of a majority of their own party.
5. And only those four are solid national names.
On that last point: the Republicans don’t gamble on relative unknowns like the Democrats did with McGovern, Carter, Dukakis and Clinton, because unknowns often get their butts kicked. The Republicans generally play it safe, and nominate people who not only have a national reputation, but have also paid their party dues. Dewey was famous for conquering the mob; Ike, for conquering Europe; Nixon, Senator and then Vice President; Ford, President; Reagan, presidential contender in 1976; Bush 41, presidential contender and Vice President; Dole, VP contender; McCain, presidential contender. Reagan, Bush 41, Dole and McCain were rewarded for politely waiting their turn, as Romney, Huckabee and Palin have waited.
The only two times the Republicans strayed from that philosophy was when they let Goldwater split the party in two, whereupon he led the party to disaster by losing; and Bush 43, who led the whole nation to disaster by winning. So they probably have little interest in gambling on an unknown for 2012.
This is why I don’t consider people like Jeb Bush or Scott Brown to be true “national names”. Or Jindal.
And this is why handicapping the race isn’t so crazy in early 2010: in the Republican party particularly, we shouldn’t expect to see a lot of violent change in the political outlook, or an out-of-nowhere nominee like Obama was.
Desperation may force the Republicans to broaden their standards if not lowering them entirely – with Palin in the mix it’s really impossible to lower the bar anymore – but I don’t think the party leadership really understands just how damaged the GOP brand is, so expect them to choose a known quantity.
The other guys who got 3-4 points on Intrade: Jindal, who was rated much higher until his disastrous national speech exposed him as a fool; Jeb Bush and Scott Brown who have a little visibility; Paul, Daniels, Ryan and Pence who are relative unknowns; and Newt who is seen by two-thirds of the country as the Prince of Darkness.
Palin qualifies on four of the five tie-breakers noted above, and the one she doesn’t have – doing well in a head-to-head poll against Obama – may not matter to the GOP primary voters, whose present undercurrents of messianic, apocalyptic insanity may overcome whatever pragmatic political sense they might have had.
The GOP voters could be persuaded to set their emotions aside and make a more pragmatic choice than Palin, if the national Republican party had responsible, courageous leadership to guide them in that direction. But they don’t: they have Steele, who has no credibility and is terrified of the far right, and a bunch of other guys who also take their marching orders from Rush, Fox and the teabaggers. And the far-right sets the bar very high, crazy-wise – they have already decreed that even Newt is too liberal for them. They will push the nomination toward the most conservative in the pack, and given the eerily liberal records of Romney and Huckabee as governors, that makes me think Palin could grab the nomination.