Pew/WaPo word cloud
Amidst the painful news on the economy, and at the start of the summer, the analysts and the pundits (some paid to be partisan, some volunteers like myself, and a handful more objective) are grappling with how to consider and describe the Republican field. As we discussed last week (see Baloney on rye, served with weak tea
), the default position is that the poor economy and a "bold" Ryan plan make for a competitive election, and Governors are a historically solid choice for a nominee.
The political scientists will tell you polls at this early stage are, if not meaningless, at least hardly predictive and won't be until next summer. They'll also tell you that what really matters is the "invisible primary" of money, endorsements and well known operatives.
All of that is true (well, except for Ryan's Curse—The Village Dictionary, which is both ill-conceived and exceedingly unpopular.)
Still, what sells papers and attracts eyeballs is a horse race. And it serves the media ill to simply tell the truth and say that the Republican primary voters have skewed so far right that some of their stronger (in terms of being more competitive in a general election) candidates such as Haley Barbour (already out) and John Huntsman (in, with no chance at all of winning) are not making the cut.
Those guys are or were running. There's an even longer list from Ryan to Jeb Bush to Chris Christie who aren't running. And then there's the clown division, including the (not running) Trump and Palin, and the (still running) Santorum, Bachmann and Cain. This is the group that Republican primary voters want to pick a nominee from, but in the end, won't.
In fact, the clear winner from a money perspective is Romney, making him the presumptive front runner, no matter how weak. And in fact, as Mark Mellman argues, the race at this point looks to be between Romney (wuho will likely win) and Pawlenty (who will win the not-Romney primary, but trails right now in both IA and NH. A loss in IA for Pawlenty might well close him down, and Bachmann may turn out to be the spoiler (and if you believe the polls now, Cain may also spoil things for Pawlenty.)
Of course, there are plenty of road bumps for Romney from his religion to his support of state mandates for health care. But still, he leads in the important primary states and in moneys raised. If he starts getting endorsements from party leaders, his stock will go even higher (his chance of getting the nomination leads Pawlenty's on Intrade 29-19.)
And where does that leave the field?
Republican Candidates Stir Little Enthusiasm
The emerging Republican presidential field draws tepid ratings. Just a quarter of voters (25%) have an excellent or good impression of the possible GOP candidates, and a separate survey conducted jointly with The Washington Post finds that negative descriptions of the field far outnumber positive ones. Asked for a single word to describe the GOP field, the top response is “unimpressed.”...
At this early stage of the 2012 presidential election Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney stand-out as the most widely recognized candidates by Republican and Republican-leaning independent voters. But while highly visible, many say there is “no chance” they will vote for Palin or Gingrich; somewhat fewer have ruled out voting for Mitt Romney.
To give you a sense of why Barbour got out, and what kind of problems keep Huntsman from being a player, check this response to him and the others at Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition
All these lines got applause. Still, a sense of unease sometimes hung over the event. Organizers acknowledged that some religious conservatives are not happy with the heavy emphasis on economic matters these days.
The audience members sat silently when Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour urged them to embrace the eventual nominee despite the certainty that they will disagree with him or her on some issues.
"Purity is the enemy of victory," said Barbour, who has decided against his own presidential bid.
"Hey," I can hear you say, "you're a partisan Democrat." Yes I am.
National Journal's Insider Poll
How about the GOP insiders
GOP Insiders Say It's Romney, but...
Republican operatives continue to believe that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is the candidate most likely to capture the party's 2012 presidential nomination, but at the same time many either lack enthusiasm for his candidacy or doubt he can win the general election according the results of the this week's National Journal Political Insiders Poll...
But many GOP Insiders believe Romney is simply the best candidate in an unimpressive field who benefits from the tendency of Republican primary voters and caucus-goers to nominate the runner-up from the previous nominating contest. "We seem unable to get beyond putting the frontrunner at the head of the ticket, even if it takes forever to establish that status and even if the candidate is as weak as this one," moaned one GOP Insider. "We have a terrible habit of blindly promoting the previous also-ran," echoed another.
"The nomination is clearly Romney's to lose, but he's in danger of becoming less energizing than John McCain was for the base of the party," said one GOP Insider, worried about Romney's support for health care reform in Massachusetts, anathema to many conservatives. "He should be toast, but it's a weak field," said another.
One GOP Insider offered a withering compliment that Romney was "looking a lot like John Kerry. He got nominated."
So, maybe they just aren't known yet. But here's an idea of what happens where they are
Poll: Obama Would Defeat Pawlenty and Bachmann in Minnesota
A Survey/USA poll released earlier this week shows that former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, who announced his candidacy nearly two weeks ago, and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, the Tea Party darling who is expected to declare her candidacy later this month in Iowa, would both fail to carry their home state against President Obama in 2012.
The poll, which was conducted on May 24 — the day after Pawlenty officially tossed his hat in the ring — gave Obama a 48-to-43 percent margin over the former governor.
It's true for MN, it's true for NJ where Obama beats GOP action hero Chris Christie, and that's hardly a confidence builder for Republicans (see the National Journal insider comments.). Given the above, expect to see more of this
Not since the fight for the 1936 Republican nomination has either party fielded as weak a field of presidential candidates as the Republicans present today. Not since the Democratic upheaval of 1968 has a major party seemed so confused about its future and divided about its vision.
Check out that last part, and see the Faith and Freedom Coalition bit above. Is it family values or is it economics. And whither family values if the public supports gay marriage
Support for Legal Gay Relations Hits New High
Sixty-four percent believe they should be legal
Americans are now as accepting of gays and lesbians as at any point in the last three decades, if not in U.S. history. This greater acceptance extends to their views of the morality of gay and lesbian relations, of their legality, and of whether marriage should legally be granted to same-sex couples.
If the trends continue and political leaders are responsive to public opinion on the issue, one would expect more states and the federal government to expand the legal rights of gays and lesbians, including the right to legally marry.
That's why the GOP seems so confused about its future and divided about its vision. Without gay bashing, and with a rising Latino electorate
, what have they got? They've got Mitt Romney, and Tim Pawlenty if he falters.
And that, when all is said and done, is the main reason the field is so weak. Slice it and dice it any way you want, neither Romney nor Pawlenty is going to fire up the evangelicals with their candidacy or satisfy the tea party by ripping out Obama's beating, living heart on TV and selling it for a profit on eBay. Anything short of that is going to be a dis-satisfier. And as for everyone else who isn't a rabid conservative, Romney and Pawlenty are a long way away from convincing folks that their touchas can fill the chair in the Oval Office better than Obama's, or that you want to see them there every day for four years. That's not going to happen on the strength of their personality.
So when will the GOP have their "come to Jesus" moment and say, you know, we could have had a quality candidate like Huntsman? Likely not for a long time. And you know, while there's plenty of reasons, a great share of the congratulations for that belongs to the tea party. As Jonathan Chait puts it:
So, accuse democrats of letting Medicare go bankrupt, promise that you just want to save it, and then try to persuade voters that preserving the Bush tax cuts that have been in place for a decade will stimulate growth. Wow, why haven't Republicans thought of this plan before?
That's why we call it Ryan's Curse.