Well, it’s been about two months since I did these, and what a two months it’s been! Rick Perry’s gone from Great White Hope to Racist Idiot. Michele Bachmann’s gone from clear frontrunner to barely hanging on. Herman Cain has gone from complete joke to complete joke who is inexplicably in the race, and Chris Christie’s gone from not running to not running. Everyone ready? Power Rankings!
1. None of the Above and Definitely Not Romney (Last Rank: NR)
The Republican Party has an enormous problem. Their Tea Party base has seized control of the party, and they are asking for — nay, demanding — a politician who is perfect and pure in all their positions, well-spoken, charismatic, and electable.
The problem is simply that this person does not exist. There are candidates who are pure in their beliefs — Bachmann, Santorum — but their very purity is off-putting to anyone to the left of Jim DeMint. There are candidates who may be electable — Romney, Huntsman — but they have committed one too many heresies for the Teapers to accept them. Some — Paul, Roemer, Gingrich — can’t even be said to be actually running for president.
And so the party has been looking for its Great White Hope. There was early speculation that Hope was Rick Perry, but Perry has had a disastrous entry into the race, not so much because of his rambling, incoherent debate answers or his racist hunting camps, but because he dared to express that children of undocumented immigrants are human, and was willing to vaccinate girls against cervical cancer. Then the party turned to Chris Christie, who would have eventually faceplanted just like Perry (for one thing, he’s appointed an actual Muslim to the courts in New Jersey, which is bad, I guess). Christie wisely decided to stay out. There are a few other candidates who keep getting brought up, but let’s face it, it’s too late for Paul Ryan or Eric Cantor or Zombie Ronald Reagan to enter the race, what with Iowa and New Hampshire just a couple months away. (And Zombie Reagan would be doomed anyhow, what with his record of raising taxes, supporting legalized abortion, and giving amnesty to “illegals.”)
The GOP rank-and-file understands that they’ve got a lot of bad candidates on the right, and also Mitt Romney. And they basically have decided they hate all of them, though they probably hate Romney the most. Which is why support continues to swing wildly from Bachmann to Perry to Cain to whomever gets the hot hand next week. The question will be whether the right can settle on a candidate before January (or maybe December) or not. As of now, the answer is “not,” and that could make things interesting.
2. Former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney (LR: 2)
This should surprise nobody. A career politician who once declared that he was more pro-gay-rights than Ted Kennedy, the man who gave Obama the template for Obamacare, a man who once declared himself firmly pro-choice, Romney is anathema to everything the Tea Party claims to believe in, save for his vast, inherited wealth.
This has made Romney the John McCain of 2012 — the candidate the right really doesn’t want to win. This may not seem like a bad thing; McCain won the nomination in 2008, after all. But Romney has a few disadvantages McCain did not.
First, the right is more firmly in charge of the party than it was in 2008. Back then, the moneyed interests in the GOP could move decisively behind McCain to prevent a Huckabee nomination, and the right fell in line. But 2010 showed the right is no longer interested in doing what the Wall Street wing of the party wants; they believe that the country wants a purity of vision that only they can provide. If the party elite move behind Romney, they’re more likely to coalesce behind Cain or Perry or anyone else than him.
Second, Romney is not McCain. Say what you will about Sen. Anger, but he had a compelling life story, a strong record of service to his country, and strong, if unorthodox, personal charisma. Romney, while handsome, comes across as stiff on the campaign trail, has served his country primarily as the President of SLOC who patched things up after a bribery scandal, and his life story is that of a guy who inherits a lot of money and makes more money by firing lots of people. And not for nothing, but in an election year when even the right is exasperated with Wall Street, photos like this won’t help.
Third, the GOP primaries have changed to become more proportional. It’s not the incredibly-proportional Democratic primary system, but still, Romney benefits from a winner-take-all system in a fractured field, where he holds 28 percent of the vote and the rest of the right splits. If they’re all sucking up delegates, however, it becomes difficult for Romney to score a quick knockout punch, and that gives someone like Perry a chance to emerge as the anti-Romney — a position that probably wins 55 percent of the GOP vote immediately.
Romney is in a weird position. He is probably the single candidate most likely to win the nomination. But every other candidate in the race is from the other wing of the party, and that means he’s probably the candidate least likely to win the nomination. I know on paper he should be the guy to beat. But my gut tells me the GOP will not nominate Mitt under any circumstances.
3. Herman Cain (LR: 7)
Sarah Palin was right about something: “Herb” Cain is the flavor of the month. With Perry’s quick implosion and Bachmann’s sudden disappearance, Cain has become the flag around which the right is rallying — for now.
I really don’t know what to make of the Cain boomlet. My gut says Cain is going to have trouble parlaying it into an actual win, for three primary reasons. The first is that he’s an untested candidate. Ask Wesley Clark how easy it is to jump into a race on the national stage without first winning at a lower level; it isn’t. Only three presidents in U.S. History have won without previous service in government. Zachary Taylor was a general and hero of the Mexican-American war, Ulysses S. Grant was the supreme commander of Union Forces during the Civil War, and Dwight D. Eisenhower was the Supreme Allied Commander during World War II. All of those are rather more impressive than “CEO of America’s Ninth Largest Pizza Chain.”
The second is simple: Cain is black. This is not to say that should matter; America would be much better off if the GOP was less overtly racist. But let’s face it: they aren’t. When Cain dared criticize Rick Perry over the former (?) name of his family’s hunting camp, the howls from the right were deafening. Not to support Cain in his assertion that the N-word isn’t good, but to denounce Cain for daring to criticize Perry. Chastened, Cain backed off his criticism.
And this is a problem for Cain. He belongs to a party that can’t even accept the criticism that the word “Niggerhead” is insensitive. Are they ready to nominate an African American to head their ticket? Folks, there is a significant percentage of the Democratic Party that is uncomfortable with having our party run by a black man. And we’ve been a party that’s at least officially opposed to racism.
The third problem is probably the most insoluble: Cain never intended to win. He reminds me a little of Jesse Ventura, a radio blowhard who ran to get issues across who suddenly has ended up being taken seriously. This is why his absurd 999 plan is being dissected now; it was never intended to be more than a slogan. Keenan Thompson and SNL nailed this (who ever thought I’d type those words?) with the line, “If America is looking for catchy, unworkable solutions to complicated problems, Herman Cain has the answer,” and the observation that he was only offering the plan to get a 9 o’clock show on Fox.
Ventura won in Minnesota because he was running against two inferior politicians, and because governor is not president. Cain is running for president. He’s not going to get by with a plan that raises taxes dramatically on he middle class and pithy slogans.
No, I just don’t see Cain getting the nomination. I think the righties have backed him for the same reason they backed Bachmann earlier in the race: because he’s a convenient standard-bearer until someone more acceptable comes along. But it’s getting to be too late for someone else to come along. If Cain can hold his current supporters through Iowa, he’ll have a great shot. But if not, it will be very interesting to see where Cain supporters go; I don’t think it will be with Cain. My money’s on them going to the next contender on the list.
4. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (LR: 3)
Perry entered the race with much fanfare. He ended the candidacy of Michele Bachmann, and for a brief moment, he had secured the front-runner position. But Perry’s moment of glory was short-lived. His debate performances have been simply awful, his position on treating immigrants like humans — while absolutely right — put him out of step with the racist right. The racist hunting camp controversy didn’t help restore those ties; rather, it provided an overt tie to a racist South that the GOP likes to pretend they never embraced. The Perry campaign’s decision to put his wife front-and-center further backfired, as Anita Perry complained that they were being attacked for his Christianity (because no group in America is more maligned than Christians), and that their son had “lost his job” because he had to quit his job with DeutscheBank in order to work for the Perry campaign, which is just slightly different than losing your job when your call center gets outsourced to India.
Perry’s main hope at this point is that Cain stumbles, and that right wingers come back to him in order to block Romney. This is not unrealistic. If the right decides they can’t live with Cain, their choices are really slim at this point — maybe Santorum or Gingrich can be made acceptable, or maybe they go back to Bachmann, but really, Perry’s the only right-wing candidate left in the race who would be semi-credible in the general election.
The other possibility is that Perry’s downward spiral continues unabated until he’s completely out of the running. He’s got to pull out of it pretty soon, or he’s going to be too far back to close.
5. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas (LR: 5)
Paul is what he is. I don’t know how many times I can keep saying it, but Paul is going to do exactly what he did in 2008 — roll up a lot of 3rd and 4th place finishes, gain a fair number of delegates, and con a number of otherwise-sensible liberals into arguing that Paul is really okay despite his goldbug, anti-woman, racist views.
But much as Romney is finding it impossible to grow his base beyond 25 percent, Paul is finding it impossible to grow beyond 15, and it’s for the same reasons — his heresies are too great. He doesn’t hate Muslims, and his foreign policy is isolationist, which is sharply at odds with most of his party. 2012 is not shaping up to be a foreign policy election, but it still makes it hard for him to get his party’s endorsement.
I can see Perry, Romney, and Cain getting lucky bounces that earn them the nomination. Not so for Paul. But for Paul, that’s okay. He’s doing a good job of promoting himself, and that’s really what his goals are.
6. Fmr. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn. (LR: 7)
Santorum climbs simply because he’s one of the few hard-right candidates who hasn’t been tried and found wanting. His views are certainly in line with the teaper right, and he’s got the anti-gay bona fides to bring in the religious right. If the right starts flailing around for a more experienced, more credible, more white candidate than Cain, Santorum could well find the fickle finger of fate landing on him.
Of course, the fact that Santorum hasn’t caught fire yet is a big red warning flag. He’s been hanging around for a good long time, and he’s been mired in single digits the entire race. He’s going to have to do something to change the dynamic of the race and right quick, or he’s going to continue to hang about in the background, slowly sliding into obscurity.
7. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. (LR: 1)
Wow, but Bachmann has imploded. Part of that was Rick Perry, who effectively drank her milkshake by jumping into the race at the exact moment she won the Ames Straw Poll. She’s never recovered, dropping to around 10 percent in Iowa, and even lower nationally. The other part is simply that she’s Our Michele, and really, her collapse was probably inevitable. She’s clearly not a valid choice for dogcatcher, and would that the Minnesota 6th would recognize that.
If Bachmann has any hope of winning the nomination, it will come down to Iowa, where Cain has led in two of the last three polls and where Bachmann’s currently polling around third or fourth. If Cain falters, Bachmann is well-positioned to gain lost supporters back; a strong showing in Iowa could reenergize her campaign. At this point, that’s Bachmann’s hope — that she pulls off a surprise win in Iowa (or a surprise second behind Romney) and that she can make a credible stand as the standard-bearer for the right.
Unfortunately, that will mean winning back voters who’ve abandoned her already, and that’s going to be a difficult task, one I’m not sure she’s up to. After all, she is still Michele Bachmann.
8. Fmr. Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga. (LR: 9)
Gingrich is actually polling reasonably well, all things considered. But as has been noted time and again, he’s not really running a vibrant campaign; he’s coasting along, cashing checks, and spending time in Hawai’i, which is not a key primary state.
If Newt had built an organization, he’d be in position to become the anti-Romney. But that would mean Newt would actually want to be president, and he’s shown no sign of that. His actions throughout this campaign have been entirely in keeping with a fading politician trying to hold on to relevance by running a sham campaign.
My bet is that in organization-heavy Iowa, Newt will badly underperform his 8-9 percent in the polls, and that he’ll be out after New Hampshire. This will suit Newt just fine; he’ll be in position to sell more books, go on more talk shows, and serve as a commentator all the way through the election. Which was his goal all along.
9. Fmr. Ambassador Jon Huntsman (LR: 6)
Huntsman has climbed into the high-single-digits in New Hampshire. What does this mean? Nothing. Huntsman has run as a candidate of the sensible, patrician right, and those people are conservative Democrats now. Huntsman would be an attractive candidate to independents and Democrats; it’s for this very reason that he can’t win the GOP endorsement.
All that’s left at this point is to see how much support Huntsman siphons from Romney. Huntsman is, as has been noted often, Romney if Romney had a soul. I don’t think it’s possible for Huntsman to rise enough to even compete for the nomination, but if he can get up over 10 percent in New Hampshire, that could deal a serious blow to Romney, as it could eat into his margin of victory there. (There’s almost no scenario where Romney loses New Hampshire; it’s a question of how much he wins it by.)
Ironically, Huntsman is probably the best friend the right-wing candidates have. If he can gain enough to start drawing from Romney, he opens the door for Cain or Perry or Candidate X. That’s really the biggest role Huntsman can play now — spoiler. Well, that, or as some sort of Unity12 third-party fantasy of the Serious White Guy Who Speaks the Village’s Language.
10. Former N.M. Governor Gary Johnson (LR: 12)
Gary Johnson remains the choice of every Republican for whom marijuana legalization is the most important issue of our time. In other words, Johnson has the support of zero to one percent of the GOP electorate, which is where he sits in the polls.
Johnson’s only hope of relevance at this point is for Ron Paul to drop dead, and even that probably wouldn’t matter, as Rand would probably jump into the race in his father’s stead. I’m really not sure why the guy’s running at this point; I guess it’s harder at this point for him to drop out than stay in, and so he’s gonna stay in, because whatever.
11. Fmr. La. Gov. Buddy Roemer (LR: 15)
Roemer rises only because of the goofball speculation that he could end up on the Unity12 ticket. He’s made some good points about money in politics, but he’s had no actual impact on the campaign so far and isn’t going to.
That doesn’t make Roemer a bad guy, but it doesn’t make him a viable presidential candidate. Lots of people have good points to make about money in politics, and they aren’t president.
Given that Roemer doesn’t have a campaign to speak of, he may remain in the race for a good long while; there’s no reason to drop out if you aren’t even really in.
12. Jimmy “The Rent is Too Damn High” McMillan (LR: 14)
McMillan drops, simply because a number of New Yorkers have discovered that rent is free if you squat in Zuccotti Park. This is a direct challenge to the centerpiece of McMillan’s campaign, and one he will have to respond to if he hopes to gain the Republican nomination.
To McMillan’s credit, he is engaging with this new paradigm of absolutely free rent; this shows he may be the kind of flexible politician who can have the same kind of success as a Vermin Supreme, or even (dare I say it?) a Morry “Grizz” Taylor.
13. Fred Karger (LR: 17)
Karger is still running for president, and still the only openly gay GOP candidate, though probably not the only gay GOP candidate, in the race. And he still remains about as likely to win as I am. Karger’s main mistake is being gay in a party that is overtly and proudly bigoted. This is a party whose partisans will boo a gay active-duty soldier simply for being gay. They aren’t going to accept a gay standard-bearer.
The only thing left for Karger is for him to be the historical footnote that Republicans of 2043 use to prove the GOP is less anti-gay than Democrats, much as Republicans of today use Strom Thurmond of the 1960s to prove that the Democrats are more racist than Republicans. (They tend to forget that Thurmond moved over to the GOP for some inexplicable reason, a move that strangely came after Johnson backed the Civil Rights Act. But Robert Byrd was once a member of the KKK!) Karger will become the “We had an openly gay presidential candidate in 2012! We never hated gays! Pay no attention to the rest of the candidates calling for reinstatement of DADT!” go-to guy of the future. Sophomoric Young Republicans of the Future owe you a debt, Fred. Of course, today, their parents think you should be denied any civil rights, but whatever.
N.J. Gov. Chris Christie (LR: Dropping Out)
Christie said he wasn’t going to run for president. And so the media responded by assuming Christie was going to run for president. Then Christie said he wasn’t going to run for president. And the media declared that Christie was considering running for president. Now, Christie has changed his mind, and declared he still isn’t running for president, and just to prove it, he’s endorsing Mitt Romney. And the media has moved on to wondering if Christie is running for Vice President. And so it goes.
Fmr. Minn. Gov. Tim Pawlenty (LR: 4)
As a Minnesotan who lived through the eight years of disinterested, callous leadership of Gov. Bridgefail, Pawlenty’s crash and burn is unbelievably satisfying. If ever there was a guy who deserved not to be rewarded, it was Gov. Timmy — a man who began running for president in 2006, who refused to raise taxes lest it make it difficult for him to run for president someday, a man who vetoed an increase in transportation funding after a bridge literally collapsed and fell into the Mississippi River, because it would result in somewhat higher fuel taxes. Tim Pawlenty used smoke and mirrors to keep the state’s budget “balanced,” pushing the reckoning off on to future legislatures and governors. He didn’t grapple with the hard issues; he elided and ignored them.
My parents went out to dinner in Eagan a couple weeks ago; Timmy was over in the corner with his wife, former Judge Mary Pawlenty. Nobody was fawning over them. Nobody gave any indication of remembering or caring about them. This is as it should be. Tim Pawlenty never cared about the people of his state; now, we’re returning the favor, just like the rest of America. Happy trails, Timmy. And don’t let the door hit you.
Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich. (LR: 10)
McCotter parlayed his vote in the Iowa Straw Poll into a quick exit from the race and an endorsement of Mitt Romney. My assumption last time around that McCotter was a stalking horse from Romney thus justified by a slim shred of evidence, I’m dropping the mic.
Fmr. Ambassador John Bolton (LR: 11)
Somewhere, Pam Gellar is crying into her pillow; the Mustache of Genocide is not running for president. It remains to be seen which of the candidates remaining can hate Muslims enough for Pam’s liking; my guess is Cain, but Bachmann hates Muslims a lot too, and so does Newt.
Nevertheless, the truly angry, vaguely-Nazi, anti-Muslim wing of the GOP has no standard-bearer. And that, my friends, is a win.
Fmr. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (LR: 13)
Sarah Palin has left the building, folks. She won’t run for president. This surprises nobody, of course — Our Lady of Wasilla had done nothing to indicate she would run for president, and everything to indicate that she was, like most grifters, just trying to bleed the mark dry before moving on.
What next for Sarah? My guess is that she waits to see who gets the GOP nomination. If it’s Romney, she’ll threaten a third-party run as a true conservative, before deciding not to run. If it’s Cain, she’ll threaten a third-party run as a white person, before deciding not to run. If it’s Perry or Bachmann, she’ll probably write another book.
1. President Barack Obama (LR: 1)
Obama has completely secured re-nomination; for all the stampy-footedness of the professional left, 81 percent of Democrats support his re-nomination. That may seem weak — almost two in 10 aren’t sure! — but Bill Clinton hit a low of 57% in 1994. What’s more, for four out of five Democrats to agree on anything is pretty much unanimity, as most people who’ve been Democrats for more than one cycle know.
Some of this is Democrats bowing to the inevitable, some of it is Democrats reassessing Obama and realizing that for all the angst, he’s really done fairly well at advancing progressive causes. And part of it is Obama himself; since September, Obama has been heavily on the offensive with a simple, straightforward jobs program that’s acceptable to both base and independents alike, and which the GOP helpfully defeated, thus giving Obama a nice foil for 2012. Additionally, the Occupy Wall Street protests, while not specifically pro-Obama, have helped move the debate onto friendly territory for the administration. (This is, incidentally, why Obama said “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” not “I am the one we’ve been waiting for.” Direct action, even when incoherent, helps a president. Too many Dems have been sitting on the sidelines waiting for Obama to do something, and throwing spitballs when he came up short of an arbitrary goal. One wonders what would have happened if liberals had organized rallies like this for the public option.)
Anyhow, assuming Obama is still alive in November of 2012, he will be the nominee. Nobody else has come forward to mount even a theoretically credible challenge, and at this point, nobody will. The question is not whether Obama will be the left’s standard-bearer in 2012. It’s whether the left will support him in order to block the idiots on the right. I think it’s clear that the vast majority of them will, but for those few of you wavering, remember this: If you think the Leave Women to Die Act is swell, that DADT should be reinstated, and that the Bush tax cuts should be permanently (as opposed to temporarily) extended, by all means, stay home or vote third party. But don’t kid yourself: the choice is going to be Obama vs. the GOP. Those are the only potential winners in 2012. I think that choice is easy.
2. Ralph Nader (LR: NR)
Officially, St. Ralph is just organizing primary challengers against Obama, not challenging himself. This is lovely, and stupid; if Nader’s going to find a primary challenger and get him or her ready to mount a legitimate campaign in two months, he’s dreaming. Sure, Cornell West could run (campaign slogan: “Oh Yeah? Well, I’m Not Giving You Tickets to My Inauguration! Suck it, Obama!”) or Jane Hamsher, or Alvin Greene. But none of them have run national campaigns, and actual candidates who could mount a challenge to Obama are all smart enough not to.
So who will Ralph turn to? My guess is that, much as Cheney’s committee did in 2000, Ralph’s committee will determine the best candidate to challenge Obama is Ralph. Will it matter that Nader hasn’t been a Democrat ever? Not to the few people who will back Nader as a True Progressive, rather than That Guy Who Helped Dubya Win. But Nader — or his surrogate — will have no change of winning enough votes to embarrass Obama, much less actually make his renomination difficult. At best, Ralph and Co. are a speed bump; more likely, they’re a very, very small pothole.
3. Randall Terry (LR: 2)
Anti-choice hatemonger Terry has still gained absolutely no traction, and looks likely to do absolutely nothing in Iowa. Even the emoprog brigade know enough to give Terry a wide berth, rather than support him in his effort to embarrass Obama. Of course, like many conservative candidates, Terry’s entire raison d’être is to gain publicity for himself. And happily, he hasn’t succeeded. It makes me feel good for the future of the country.