When the 2008 Election ended, I thought there would many in the Republican Party that would bypass the Midterms and move into the general campaign for 2012 against Obama. While there has been positioning by some candidates, the GOP saw a clear weakness and lack of message in the President and put their organizational prowess into effect and won a historical amount of seats to capture the House and make the Senate a near draw. The opportunity during the 2010 Midterms could be a reason for the lack of buzz surrounding their possible candidates, but it does not explain why the GOP primary campaign still has yet to truly heat up.
The GOP has nearly a dozen potential candidates and we are only six months away from the Iowa caucuses. I would divide these candidates into 3 different camps: Institutionalists, Extremists, Independents. I will also add a fourth category, virtual unknowns. By institutionalists (Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani), I do not mean that they are so certifiably crazy that they should be institutionalized, but rather that this group is largely known by their base and there will not be much movement in their buzz, poll numbers, or expected fundraising ability. To quote Dick Cheney, they are “known knowns”.
The extremists (Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann) are either tea party leaders or are making the extreme Republican agenda look like an art form — like Olympic figure skating. Their unpredictability is predictable, in that the only real surprise is how they have become more dogmatic today than they were yesterday. While Trump is not running, he will set the base for what it means to be a platform Republican for 2012. He will make a statement, the media will run with it, and these candidates will be defined by their response. I still contend that if Palin gets the nomination, Bachmann will be her running mate in the most conservative (and groundbreaking) ticket in Presidential history.
The independents are not necessarily moderate, but that they are defined by their own ideology and not necessarily the institutional inside or ideological dogma. This group currently only consists of Ron Paul. He is hands down the most dangerous man in the Republican party. He is insanely passionate and charismatic. He combines these traits with intelligence and a buzz among college youth that no Republican candidate in decades has found. If the GOP ever wised up and gave him the nomination, I believe that Obama could not beat him. His libertarian philosophy can appeal to conservatives, liberals and moderates depending on what issue he is discussing and he rarely ever wavers into politically illogical territory — his arguments are of the most sound judgment, even when I disagree with his philosophy.
Finally, the virtual unknowns (Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain) are also the two most interest candidates in the field. Cain is the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and while he is a strict conservative he is the most unknown candidate in the field. He gained a lot of buzz last month in the first GOP debate broadcast on Fox News. He has seen a huge bump in the polls. Oh, and he’s African American. In the end, however, there are other conservatives that the base would rather support if the party goes the route of ultra-conservative. He is promoting his business acumen, but, if Romney is in the field that will not help him enough.
I said in February of 2009 that Tim Pawlenty would be the Republican candidate for President. He is the only candidate thus far to officially announce a real candidacy. He is squeaky clean. He has executive leadership, of a traditionally blue state. He is intelligent. He is not controversial. He is, in one word, safe. If the GOP plays the odds game, and plays the electoral math, he is the best candidate to run a traditional campaign and win. His main disadvantage is that he has never dealt with national media attention and he clearly is uncomfortable and about as vanilla as can be. He will get eaten up by the national establishment if he does not start playing hardball.
Soon I will run through some of my electoral college thoughts on different matchups, as we can already identify the 12 (or so) states that will decide this election.