Handicapping the GOP Presidential Field

I count 20. That is the number of people that I have seen identified in a serious way by some major media outlet, political organization, pundit or other legitimate “handicapper.” In this article I will argue that only four of these assorted fingers and toes have any chance of securing the nomination – and I will name them.

Here’s the list, in alphabetical order:

Michele Bachman
Jeb Bush
Herman Cain
Chris Christie
Mitch Daniels
Jim DeMint
Newt Gingrich
Rudi Giuliani
Mike Huckabee
Jon Huntsman
Gary Johnson
Sarah Palin
George Pataki
Ron Paul
Tim Pawlenty
Mike Pence
Rick Perry
George Romney
Rick Santorum
Donald Trump.

Incidentally, there might very well be names that I have inadvertently omitted – I can’t keep track of every pundit’s blog. And although not impossible, I believe that anyone not yet on the radar screen has a very limited chance of being the eventual nominee.

A few months ago, in an attempt to sort out the tweedle-dees from the tweedle-dums, I started reading the books produced lately by some of these folks. In particular, I read those cast upon the waters by DeMint, Gingrich, Huckabee, Pawlenty, Paul and Romney. The only one I missed was Palin’s – which won’t really matter (see below). Of these tomes, I would say: Romney’s was the best written; Pawlenty’s was the most autobiographical – and therefore, in some ways, the most interesting; Huckabee’s the most folksy or informal; Paul’s the most esoteric and polemical; Newt’s the most wonkish; and – for me – DeMint’s the most inspirational. I still believe that Romney’s a RINO and that Paul is a libertarian too far. If I had to vote based only on the books, DeMint is an easy winner, with Pawlenty a respectable second.

But the books are largely irrelevant at this point. Here is the proper handicap analysis:

  • Daniels, Huckabee, Pence and Trump have explicitly taken themselves out of the game.
  • DeMint has not formally removed himself, but he shows no indication whatsoever that he is a candidate and I believe that he is indeed not.
  • Christie, like DeMint, has given no indication that he will be a candidate; in fact, any of his statements addressed to the matter are as strongly negative as those of the four in the first group above.
  • There’s a large group among the 20 – ranging from people who have explicitly said that they are running to those who have tried to squelch any such rumors – whose members have virtually no national name recognition, no business being in the race, and absolutely not a snowball’s chance in hell of being nominated. That group consists of Cain, Huntsman, Johnson, Pataki and Santorum. Ultimately, they will vanish meekly from the presidential sweepstakes.

That leaves a baseball team of nine: Bachman, Bush, Gingrich, Giuliani, Palin, Paul, Pawlenty, Perry and Romney.

  • Giuliani has name recognition and nothing else. The last time around was his best shot. Having fizzled so spectacularly then, he will do no better this go-round.
  • Jeb Bush appears to be wise enough to realize that the public will not tolerate another Bush – even if he is the most talented and the most conservative of the three. The GOP nominates him only if it has a death wish.
  • Ron Paul will run a spirited race that will energize his limited cadre of followers. He’ll do no better than he did in ‘08. The public is Center-Right, not extreme libertarian.
  • Gingrich is an undisciplined, loose cannon and everyone knows it. He did himself irreparable damage with this irresponsible attack on Paul Ryan. His goose is cooked.
  • Sarah Palin is a fascinating possibility, but she has been so thoroughly demonized by the Left that – fair or not – she cannot win. And most of the GOP rank and file knows it. I think she knows it too. Not happening.

We are left with four: Bachman, Pawlenty, Perry and Romney. At this very early stage, Romney is – sad to say – the front runner, with Pawlenty likely his most serious opposition. If the GOP follows its historic habit of nominating “the next in line,” Romney will get the nod. But serious discomfort has bubbled up in the GOP rank and file in the last two years and perhaps they will shove George aside. While Pawlenty’s conservative credentials are stronger than Romney’s, he doesn’t exactly set the people’s hair on fire. In which case, one of Bachman or Perry might mount a late charge. Perry is an extraordinarily attractive candidate – very different from the last Governor of Texas who auditioned for the job. If he jumps in and if one of the two front runners hasn’t sewn it up, he will be formidable. But if he doesn’t, and the rank and file doesn’t want the front runners, then they might turn to Bachman. She has outstanding conservative bona fides, is a power-house fund raiser, with a sharp mind and a personality that generates enthusiasm. (The Left tried to Palinize her – unsuccessfully.) Having elected a minority, the electorate is clearly ready for a woman. Hillary was flummoxed and Sarah is not the one. Perhaps Michele is. She would make an exciting candidate. At this point she is a long shot, but she has a path to the nomination, unlike the other 16 that I have eliminated.

Finally, it behooves me to say something about Paul Ryan. Many conservatives, anxious about what they see as a weak field, are urging him to get in the race. Thus far, he is resisting such urges; but that might change. He is another highly attractive candidate: extremely intelligent (I wager far beyond our supposedly brilliant President), conversant on all the major issues, a fierce and skilled debater, courageous, articulate and staunchly conservative. I would be pleased to see him join the fray and expand four viables into five.
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