- Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 December 2010 00:00
- Published on Wednesday, 01 December 2010 00:00
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Two years ago, following President Obama’s historic win, the Republican Party was in serious trouble. Some claimed it was gradually becoming a regional party and that before long wouldn’t have any appreciable power outside the south.
That was an unnecessarily dismal projection, but that was the mood of many in the GOP after the 2008 election. But, my, how quickly things change. According to a recent poll, taken shortly after the Republican sweep this November, a “generic” Republican in a head-to-head contest with the President in 2012 would win two-to-one. While that’s probably an inflated finding, there is no doubt, at least in the eyes of the GOP, that President Obama is vulnerable. The mid-terms, his approval ratings, and the overall appearance of weakness, have taken their toll. This makes the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination an incredibly valuable prize.
Even before the midterms there were already a half a dozen candidates with their eyes on the nomination. Now, with the GOP having staged a stunning electoral showing, anyone who was on the fence about running is likely to view a shot at the nomination in 2012 as a once in a lifetime, not to be missed, gambit.
One person whose stock went up following the mid-terms was Sarah Palin. More so than any other prospective candidate she actively endorsed primary and general election candidates all over the country. Of course, not all of her candidates won, but a lot did, and in races as far flung as Texas, Florida, and California, Palin-backed candidates carried the day. The former Governor, turned writer, turned celebrity, is now more than just a personality, she is a force to be reckoned with.
However, the mainstream Republican Party isn’t sure how to cope with Palin. Do they become tea-partiers too, picking up on Palin’s populist brand of conservatism, or do they try something a little softer?
Right now, no one is quite sure how to react to a possible Palin candidacy. What would it look like and how would it be organized? But, of course, that raises another question. Will Palin run at all? She is making millions on her TV show, books, and lectures. Her daughter, an unlikely celebrity, but popular just the same, is doing well with her appearances. It’s easy to see where Sarah Palin might continue in her present role as, “the outsider looking in…” rather than picking up all the baggage, the scrutiny, not to mention the lost income opportunity that goes with being a candidate.
On the other hand there are those who can’t wait. Mitt Romney still sees himself as the heir apparent for the nomination, though he may be the only one who agrees with that statement. The former Massachusetts Governor is one of the most competent candidates in the field. His record in business and public service is impressive. But he has never succeeded in convincing the Republican base, the ones who do the nominating, that he is their kind of candidate. And unless he ramps it up a bit, gets an agenda, and somehow gets a charisma transplant, his campaign in 2012 may suffer the same fate it did 2008.
Other candidates are still just names. Nice, competent, soothing figures, who get mentioned, but other than that we don’t know much about them. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Jim DeMint of South Carolina (a tea partier’s tea partier) and Haley Barbour of Mississippi are all mentioned. But what their candidacies would look like and how they would craft their message is still an open question.
One candidate, still popular with the rank and file of the party, is former Governor Mike Huckabee. Huckabee made a surprisingly strong showing in 2008, doing well in the Iowa caucuses, and then, in several primaries. He has since hosted a successful talk show. His style is friendly and his focus, at least recently, has been on a mix of fiscal and social issues. The latter, in particular, could be a strong appeal for the GOP’s conservative and evangelical supporters.
It has been suggested by some in the GOP that the candidate for 2012 might be a “sleeper.” Perhaps, a current or former Senator or Governor, or other prominent figure, who no one has thought of yet. That sounds like a wonderful script for a novel. The idea of a true dark horse candidate is exciting, but I am not sure that works in the 21st century.
The first caucus is still 13 months away. To most normal people, that’s an eternity. But for those who have already started campaigning, or worse, those who spend most of their time writing and talking about politics, it’s just around the corner.