What GOP field?
Not a day goes by without a new poll on the prospective presidential primary race. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll told us that Mike Huckabee "leads" with 25%, followed by Mitt Romney (21%), Newt Gingrich (13%), and Sarah Palin (12%). Other contenders are in single digits. Aside from the fact we've had no debates, none of these people have declared their candidacy, Palin likely will never declare, the Iowa caucuses are 11 months away, and the poll samples American adults (not even registered voters) it's a vital piece of data. No, it really isn't.
Given Gingrich's false start, blamed on the legal and financial difficulties of unwinding his network of enterprises (the very factor that prevented him from running in 2008), we presently have a Republican field that consists of former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer, Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty. That's it.
In fact, it may be all there is for quite some time. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has rediscovered the requirements of his current job and sounds like he's not so keen on running, according to the Associated Press:
Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels says he'll stay focused on getting his Statehouse agenda passed, even if the legislative session drags on so long that it precludes him for running for president.
An ongoing standoff caused by boycotting House Democrats has the potential to cause the legislative session to drag on past its scheduled end in late April. Daniels told The Associated Press Wednesday that his legislative agenda remains his top priority. He said a long-term impasse "could well get in the way of any national participation. If it does, it does."
It's hard to believe Daniels just figured out the legislative schedule. But the criticism he's faced of late may have given him and his family (who are reportedly reluctant to undergo a national campaign) a taste of what it would be like in the national spotlight. Yes, if he ran, he would have to make amends with social conservatives, learn foreign policy, articulate a world vision and compete with candidates who will fly-speck his record and grill him on his willingness to raise taxes. Could he have decided that's not all that appealing? Sometimes we overthink these things. A smart Republican insider says, "Maybe he just really does not want to do it, sees the road ahead, knows he'd probably lose and maybe thinks there's a better candidate."
That better candidate probably isn't Mike Huckabee, whose fondness for his current income is matched by his propensity for saying appalling things. If Palin and Gingrich were not problematic enough for Republican voters, there is Huckabee, now turned sociologist. Monday he posited Obama growing up in Kenya (a spokesman tried to walk that back) and Tuesday he came up with this:
Most of us grew up going to Boy Scout meetings and, you know, our communities were filled with Rotary Clubs, not madrassas. And I just do think that there is -- again, I am not saying he's not a citizen, I've never said that, I've said the opposite. I've never said he's a Muslim. ... I wish [reporters] would ask, though, does this president have a different worldview than any other president in the history of the United States.
Meanwhile, in the search of a viable candidate, attention turns to the cozy field of two (Romney and Pawlenty). Now it's not only conservatives who have figured out that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie hasn't really closed the door permanently to a presidential run. Democrat Taegan Goddard reminds us:
To those who think New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) declaration that he's "not ready" to be president means he can't run, it's worth noting Barack Obama said something similar after he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004.
Said Obama: "You know, I am a believer in ... in knowing what you're doing when you apply for a job. Uh, and I think that... if I were seriously to consider running on a national ticket, I would essentially have to start now, before having served a day in the Senate. Now there may be some people who are comfortable doing that, but I am not one of those people."
Besides, it's not every candidate who inspires poetry.
And the other favorite non-candidate of conservatives, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) took time yesterday to observe that Romneycare does look an awful lot like Obamacare. ("It's not that dissimilar to Obamacare, and you probably know I'm not a big fan of Obamacare. I just don't think the mandates work ... all the regulation they've put on it.") Hmm. That sure sounds like a good line for a debate.
If we take a step back, it is obvious we are no closer to defining the field of Republican presidential candidates than we were in December 2010. Perhaps in another three months we will have a better idea, but for now forget the polls and disregard pleas of non-interest from viable candidates. Instead, watch who is sounding and looking presidential. Sooner or later, one of them may rise to the top of the heap.
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