I ask you two questions and the responses are fascinating.
- Who will be the Republican nominee?
- Who will win the general election on November 6, 2012?
So as I write this, we continue to have 8 announced candidates, with 3 potentials looming from the sidelines: an increasingly active Chris Christie, and increasingly marginal Sarah Palin, and the ever-perplexing Rudy Guiliani. I said last time that I thought Chris Christie could enter almost any time up to New Hampshire, but the punditry seems quite certain that it is, indeed, now or never. Pesky details like fundraising, primary deadlines, and field organizations need to be put in place. Not to mention settling the field and removing uncertainty. I’m a bit surprised Christie has dallied this long…it doesn’t fit with his blunt, decisive image. Mario Cuomo he ain’t!
So as of today it’s really a two-person race, Romney and Perry. Perry leads in the monthly Gallup Poll at 31%, holding the level (29%) that he had just before he entered. But somewhat surprisingly, Romney has gained 7 points, from 17% to 24%, since Perry entered.
So let’s assess each candidate in turn.
Rick Perry came out with a bang, with blunt critiques and overwrought language. Most prominently he attacked Ben Bernanke’s “almost treasonous” handling of the Fed, saying that he would be treated “pretty ugly” if he came to Texas. He pulled back almost immediately from this level of rhetoric, and was ready for prime time by the first debate. He continued to talk tough, though, pronouncing the Social Security trust as a “Ponzi scheme,” setting himself up for harsh critiques from Romney. In the second debate, he took further punishment from Michele Bachmann on his attempt, by executive order, to have all Texas girls innoculated for the HPV virus, and also took some hits for his relatively moderate position on immigration. By the third debate, he was well off-form, and his performance there provided some of the impetus for the growing clamor for Christie. Most of you appear to think he is too conservative, or too flip, or too much like Bush, or simply too lightweight to get the nomination. Leave it to Bill Clinton to sum him up: “He’s a good looking rascal!”
Mitt Romney’s star is rising. Most of you see him as the future nominee, and he’s earned that by his performance over the past two months. His debate performances were stellar: he was prepared, quick, clever, relaxed, gave better than he got, and generally looked more presidential than the field. He also showed that his prior experience as a candidate has stood him well, and showed no signs of debate fatigue. Moving back from #1 to #2 in the field actually helped him: everyone piled up on Perry, and Romney’s weaknesses went unpunished. Those weaknesses are: 1) his Obama-esque health care legislation as Massachusetts governor, 2) his flip-flopping in general, and 3) his flip-flopping on health care. For some reason, his statement on health care -- “…and if I'm president, on day one I'll direct the secretary of Health and Human Services to grant a waiver from Obamacare to all 50 states” – seems to have disarmed his critics.
As for the others?
After a nearly invisible first debate performance, Michele Bachmann turned it into overdrive (hopefully some 70’s music fans will “get” this phrase!) and scored a huge win by attacking Perry on the HPV issue. However, almost immediately she managed to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory by linking HPV with mental retardation on the basis of a story from one distraught mother. The ensuing outcry hurt her badly, no more so than among the big money people she needs. She is entirely focused on Iowa now, limping along in Perry’s shadow on the right, as well as the spectre of Palin. She also has seen her Gallup support halved (from 10% to 5%) since Perry entered.
John Huntsman made his move, boldly (it’s come to this?!) distinguishing himself from the others by declaring he believed in global warming and evolution, and then showing modest improvement during the debates. He’s managed to sneak into double-digits in New Hampshire, where he is making his only stand, closing field operations in Florida. He too is running on fumes money-wise…and mostly his own money at that.
Rick Santorum is also moving up, if somewhat imperceptibly. He has emerged as the only candidate from the far right with any real brains. You may not like what he says, but at least he is a policy wonk with many years of fighting on the various issues in play. And therefore he is coming across as more able, studied and serious than Perry or Bachmann. Too bad he looks like he’s about 25, and that it always seem like Newt Gingrich is one second away from patting him on the head after a good point.
Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain and Ron Paul remain colorful and, to a point, popular sideshows. Each can be counted on to provide moments of levity, bluntness or both (intentional or otherwise), which does distinguish them from the dryness of the rest of the candidates. Newt seems to be playing a more avuncular role in all this, rather than a serious candidate. (Duh!) He appears to be doing his best to make up to the far right for his more aggregious wanderings off the reservation, and also is best at adhering to Ronald Reagan’s famous dictum, “Thou shall not speak ill of other Republicans.” Herman Cain seems to be enjoying himself immensely, and Ron Paul also seems to be enjoying his public evisceration of all things Federal. Paul’s #2 finish in the Iowa Straw Poll notwithstanding, none of these three will have an impact on the outcome.
Where does that leave us?
For now, we’re contest-free until Iowa. The Florida Republicans moved their primary up to January 31st, an outright violation of the Republican National Committee’s rule that their be no contests before February. This will force Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Neveda to move their’s up to January (or even sooner!) as well. All five of these states may therefore be punished by the RNC by the elimination of half their delegates from the nominating process and Convention. They probably (correctly) figure that being in the first round of primaries is the most influential place to be, delegates or not.
Once again, we find ourselves without a settled Republican field. My predictions?
- Christie will not run. Too late, too many variables, not a lock that he’d win.
- Palin will not run, nor will Guiliani.
- Perry wins Iowa and Bachmann and Santorum drop out.
- Romney wins New Hampshire and Huntsman drops out.
- Gingrich, Cain and Paul remain in, but mostly just to talk, as none have any money or organization
- Romney wins Nevada, Perry wins South Carolina
- Florida is a toss up…it would be a good Perry state but Romney bludgeons him with his “Ponzi Scheme” comments.
- And thus they slug it out….Super Tuesday is not so super, as the primary calendar has been elongated, and some states have changed their delegate rules from outright winners to apportionment, much like the Democrats.
- This will lead to many primaries where one or the other of Perry and Romney win 8 delegates while the other wins 6….much like Obama and Clinton, but perhaps without the same definitive math that favored Obama.
I go with the crowd here…Romney wins and manages to wrap it up before the Convention.
Back in December before the real scoreboard starts lighting up in Iowa!
In the meantime, I have a new campaign song for Rick Perry! It’s to the tune of “The Patty Duke Show”….
Meet Bushie who failed most everywhere
From Iraq to the crash, a long nightmare
But Perry wants to be the Prez
And counter what Obama says
What a crazy pair!
They’re Texas guv’ners!
Identical guv’ners all the way!
One pair of matching cowboy boots
Different as day and…day.
Where Bushie adores a bar-b-q
Long vacations, and Cheney too
Rick Perry likes to chat and dream
And talk about a Ponzi scheme
What a wild crew!
Still they’re guv’ners
Identical guv’ners and you’ll find
They walk alike, they talk alike
They pray and comb their hair alike
Rick’s an old refrain…
He’s Bushie….without the brains!!!!