Thoughts on the Republican Presidential Field

Newt’s PAC is struggling to raise “hard money” donations, Politico reports. He has money from other sources, notably a 527 organization called American Solutions for Winning the Future that apparently rakes in big donations from deep pocket supporters. But he can’t use the 527 money directly for a presidential campaign, and there seems to be little interest among ordinary donors to back Newt.

This doesn’t surprise me. Although Newt is polling around fifth in the overstuffed Republican field (after Huckabee, Trump, Romney, and Palin), I suspect that’s mostly from name recognition. The baggers don’t seem to be all that interested in Newt, no matter how hard he panders to them. And the Beltway establishment isn’t supporting him either, according to Nate Silver.

Nate calls the establishment candidates the Fairfax Five — Barbour, Daniels, Huntsman, Pawlenty and Romney. The bagger candidates are the Factional Five — Bachmann, Gingrich, Palin, Ron Paul, and Trump. Other candidates polling in the top ten are Huckabee, Giuliani and Santorum. Yeah, what a pack of mutts.

I think the Republicans’ biggest problem is that it’s unlikely they can take back the White House without the bagger vote. But candidates that appeal to baggers are likely to scare the stuffing out of the rest of the electorate. None of the Factional Five could come even close to winning a general election, IMO. The candidates favored by the establishment may seem safer, but they also tend to be hopelessly boring. Romney and Pawlenty are all vanilla frosting, no cake. And have you seen Huntsman? He looks like the generic white guy from central casting. I don’t think the electorate will be in the mood for bland and safe in 2012.

Establishment guys Barbour, Daniels and Huntsman are not in the top ten in the polls, btw. Of those three I think only Daniels has a shot at the nomination and might possibly appeal to both the establishment and the baggers. At MSNBC, Lawrence O’Donnell keeps predicting that Pawlenty will get the nomination, but I don’t see the baggers getting all that enthusiastic about Pawlenty. I mean, his first name is “Tim.” Please.

Given his history as a lobbyist one wonders if the baggers will take to Barbour, although Barbour’s history of, um, racial insensitivity might work in his favor. I don’t think Barbour has general election appeal, though. I keep seeing Barbour in the Charles Durning role in “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” except (I assume) Durning can sing and dance better.

Romney might do well in a general election, but his Mormonism will make it difficult for him to be nominated. Romney always strikes me as soulless, though. I don’t sense anything behind the facade. If you were to assign political consultants to create a Standard Generic Presidential Candidate, what they’d come up with is something like Romney, except they’d make him Episcopalian.

Overall, Mike Huckabee is polling better than anyone else, which is surprising considering he hasn’t been in the national news much. Huckabee is dangerous because he is personable and likable. He’s a guy many voters would like to invite over for a backyard cookout, and they might be more comfortable with him than with Barack Obama. But I think Huckabee is vulnerable on issues.

For example, Huckabee has a long history of supporting “Fair Tax,” which would eliminate the IRS and replace income tax with sales taxes, which seems to me would suppress consumer spending and kill what’s left of our economy. Baggers would no doubt fall for the Fair Tax, but would the rest of the electorate?

Also, someone as right-wing as Huckabee on social issues has never won a general election. He’s way to the right of the norm on gay marriage and abortion, for example, and unlike some prior conservative candidates (Reagan and Bush II come to mind) he is likely to make social issues a priority, not something he pays lip service to when running for office.

Both Bush II and Reagan were able to get votes from people who disagreed with their positions on social issues, because there was an assumption that they wouldn’t really take any action on those issues. I remember reading an article about women voters supporting Bush II who said that they sincerely believed he was just pandering to the anti-abortion crowd to get elected, and they didn’t think he was really anti-abortion, so they were going to vote for him anyway in spite of being pro-choice. Huckabee is not going to be able to pull that off.

Santorum and Giuliani are yesterday’s news. If they couldn’t pull off a nomination when they were at the peaks of their careers, they’re not going to do it now. I’d say the same for Newt, and Palin is just about ready for the clearance sale shelf as well. Palin has a core of supporters who will love her as long as they all live, but to everyone else she becomes more irrelevant by the hour.

Bachmann is too stupid to even fake being a credible candidate, although she is rapidly sewing up the not insubstantial Idiot Vote.

Donald Trump either is just trying to pull up his television ratings and will stop pretending to be a candidate when his show is renewed, or else he’s in the early stages of dementia. Or both.

People are talking about Chris Christie as a dark horse candidate, but Christie’s approval ratings (finally) are dropping in New Jersey. And if he’s looking like a one-term governor in 2012 he’s unlikely to get much backing as a presidential candidate.

Look for some faction of the establishment to promote Jeb Bush as a dark horse. This might have some viability if Jeb can keep his older brother locked in the basement for several months. If Dubya insists on “helping” Jeb’s campaign, though, Jeb is in trouble, especially in the general election.

I think a lot will ride on what the economy is doing and whether Dems can keep the Ryan budget alive as an issue into 2012. And I think the fight for the nomination will be among Daniels, Pawlenty, Romney, and Huckabee.