Worried Republicans = opportunity for non-candidates
If you talk to Republicans in D.C. -- or in Israel, for that matter -- the overwhelming sentiment about the 2012 contenders is a mix of un-enthusiasm and nervousness. Republicans genuinely believe that the economy and Obama's failure to exert leadership on our fiscal crisis provide an opening for Republicans to do the unusual -- defeat an incumbent president. But Republicans have become a savvy lot after the disappointment of 2008 and the loss of some Tea Party favorites in 2010. In short, you can't beat Democrats with uninspiring or flaky candidates.
Today a number of frequently mentioned candidates (Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels) will address the Conservative Political Action Conference. But ask a Republican activist about the field, and you generally get a shrug. A Republican in the financial industry and his wife express antipathy toward Obama in the strongest terms imaginable. ("He is ruining this country!") They'd support "anybody but Obama" but don't identify anyone in particular. A name that doesn't come up: Sarah Palin.
There is widespread conservative fretting within the Beltway. Could a golden opportunity slip through the GOP's fingers? Well, in 1992 then-Gov. Bill Clinton saw a mediocre field, jumped into the race and proved himself to be head-and-shoulders above the competition. And so rather than panic and buy into the narrative that Republicans have no viable challenger, Republicans should look more carefully at the current crop (Tim Pawlenty is making headway in name identification and by comparison to flawed opponents). More important, their ideal candidate could well be someone who's initially ruled out a run or who's been quietly biding his time. The flip side of "the Republicans have no one" is "There's room for someone to take the party by storm."
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