We’ve reached that point in the election cycle where these little updates will come more often — at least once a month, and possibly more often than that. With a number of candidates actually announced and only a few more still weighing their options, the Republican field is pretty well set, while the Democratic field remains a foregone conclusion. That said, rthe Democrats are getting in on the action this week, because hey, there are people running against Obama, though they have absolutely, positively, no chance of winning.
So without further ado….
1. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. (Last Rank: 2)
I wish I was kidding. In any sober nation, Bachmann’s candidacy would be a sideshow. She’d be B-1 Bob Dornan, or Pat Robertson, or Al Sharpton — good for a line or two, a memorable moment during the debates, but certainly not someone who had any chance whatsoever of winning her party’s nomination.
But here we are. And while there’s a long, long time between now and Iowa, Bachmann is, for now, the candidate to beat. Her momentum is strong, she’s more trusted by party stalwarts than Romney (who leads in most generic polls, but not all), and she has that Christine O’Donnell/Sharron Angle/Joe Miller authenticity-slash-evil that appeals to those who make up the bulk of GOP activists. Nobody on the right doubts that Bachmann is with them every step along the path to Armageddon, and they are willing to march there with her.
The question for Bachmann will center on what her ceiling is. Like Romney, Bachmann has a strong base in a power bloc of her party. But it’s unclear how much of the Republican party will be willing to back her, and at what point she stops being a diverting candidate and starts being a threat that must be stopped. The big money wing of the party moved decisively to McCain in 2008 after it became clear that Romney wasn’t up to beating Huckabee; it’s possible that they could rally behind another of the blander candidates to stop Bachmann.
But 2012 is not 2008, and the GOP has moved further right. In 2008, more than half the party was willing to block Huckabee. The same may not be true today regarding Bachmann. And more GOP primaries and caucuses are awarding delegates on a proportional, rather than winner-take-all basis. This will make it harder to knock Bachmann out early, and Bachmann will have the footsoldiers and the money for a long race.
I have poked my share of fun at Our Michele over the years, and let’s face it, she’s a ripe target. But it’s time for Democrats to stop laughing at her. She is not going away. And minor gaffes won’t derail her — they just prove to her base that she isn’t an egg-headed elitist.
And frankly, I’m not sure where her weak point is, at least among GOP voters. Is she unstable? Yes, but the GOP has been running down stability at every turn. Are her positions radical? Of course, but name any GOP position that isn’t radical. A huge portion of the Republican base really believes that there is no tax rate that’s fair, that government is by definition socialist, and that it should get out of people’s lives, except to prevent gay people from existing and women from having access to contraception and abortion. And Romney, especially, can’t really attack Bachmann’s positions, because the right of the party already views his social and economic views as far too heterodox for their liking.
Bachmann is capable of imploding on her own, of course, and she well may. But she is in position to win Iowa, compete in New Hampshire, and then swing down to South Carolina, which should be strong territory for her. Right now, she is best-positioned to win the GOP primary. I am no longer amused. I am aghast.
2. Former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney (LR: 3)
Romney still hasn’t done anything to justify his lofty position in the polls, other than being the guy who the money people don’t fear. He’s already backtracking on attacks on Obama, which won’t win him love from the right. (Of course, those attacks were bald-faced lies, but no Republican should care about such trivialities.) He still signed and praised Obamneycare. He’s a mainstream conservative in a party of radicals. And the right doesn’t trust him.
But because he’s not a radical, he does have a puncher’s chance. At some point (and maybe the backtracking is a sign of it), Romney’s going to have to just admit that he isn’t a reactionary. He’s going to have to embrace his record in Massachusetts, and run as the standard-bearer for kinder, gentler, compassionate conservatism. There is still a large segment of the GOP that isn’t movement conservative — the Wall Street, Brooks Brothers, trust fund set — and they represent Romney’s base. In numbers, they’re much smaller than Bachmann’s base, but they have a lot more money and a lot more influence.
Of course, the danger of that line of attack is obvious; in a party that is screaming toward fascism, a candidate who is merely slightly to the right of Ronald Reagan represents a horror. And doubtless, many Republicans on the right will fight tooth and nail to keep Romney from getting the nomination. But will they bolt the party if it’s Romney versus Socialist Kenyan Muslim Barack Obama? No.
That’s Romney’s path to the nomination — secure his base, and get to 55 percent support in the GOP. I don’t know if that’s possible, but he’s not going to out-conservative Michele Bachmann, because that’s not actually possible.
3. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (LR: Not Ranked)
It is a testament to just how weak the Republican field is that Rick Perry has moved into the top tier of candidates simply by musing that he might be interested in running. Of course, there’s no reason to think he could win the presidency — very few presidents have advocated secession. But because he hasn’t entered the race, his glaring flaws haven’t yet been exposed, and he’s just a decent-looking governor of a conservative southern state. And really, why would America hesitate to elect a president who was previously the governor of Texas, anyhow?
Perry’s problem is simple: if he’s going to run, at some point, he’s going to run, and at that point, he’ll prove to be no stronger a candidate than Pawlenty or Romney or any of the other jokers in this field. His current standing in the polls has nothing to do with his actual appeal, and everything to do with being someone not running — a possible white knight, who could swoop in and make the GOP field not suck. I understand; this is how Democrats felt about 1988. But sorry, folks, it isn’t going to get better. Perry could win the nomination, sure. But not in a year with even a vaguely competent candidate.
4. Former Minn. Gov. Tim Pawlenty (LR: 1)
Pawlenty is dropping like a stone, and the only reason that I don’t drop him further is that it feels like the entire GOP field (save Bachmann) is in free-fall. Still, Pawlenty couldn’t take a swing at Romney when it counted, and it may have cost him the nomination.
Pawlenty’s “Obamneycare” jibe was a good one, at least if you’re running for the GOP nomination. It hits Romney right in the solar plexus — if you want to hurt Romney with radical conservatives, just keep pointing out how willing he was to work with Democrats in Massachusetts. And the Obamneycare line worked. It was short, to the point, and it was potentially lethal. When Pawlenty unveiled it on the talk circuit, you could sense that this could be the beginning of the end for Willard.
And then Pawlenty went into the first big debate — the one where Michele Bachmann drank his milkshake — and John King teed up the Obamneycare line for him, and Pawlenty…he just plain flubbed it. It was like the inner Minnesotan programming kicked in, and he couldn’t be mean to Romney in person. (Behind his back was fine, of course. This is the Minnesota way.)
It looked like weakness. Pawlenty was pusillanimous in his pontifications, trying desperately to bring the attack back to Obama. But all his sputtering did was make Republicans wonder if this guy was going to blow it against Obama, who, with his Alinskyite training and Ayers-pennedbons mots, is a fearsome debater.
This was a disastrous performance by Pawlenty, and left him as not only the toughest challenger in the race, but not even the toughest challenger from his state.
There is time to repair the damage. It’s only July. He’s got seven months before Iowa. But Pawlenty is now in dangerous territory. Bachmann has seized the momentum on the right, cutting off the base he was hoping to exploit in his bid for the nomination. Romney, meanwhile, has secured the sober wing of the party. This leaves Pawlenty flailing around for a base of support from which to run his campaign — and as Nate Silver notes, that’s a big problem, and possibly an insurmountable one.
5. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas (LR: 5)
Paul is what he is. But looking at the GOP process this time around, I actually think he could exceed his 2008 showing. Not because I think he’ll draw more votes — he actually might draw fewer. But the GOP race is more proportional this time around, meaning Paul’s steady 12 percent of the primary vote could translate into six or seven percent of the final delegate count. Not enough to win, of course, but enough to make a showing.
Here’s an interesting hypothetical, though. Let’s say Willard Mitt and Our Michele go back-and-forth all the way through to June, and there’s still no clear nominee. Who would Paul give his six percent of the delegates to? And at what price? Something to ponder, isn’t it?
6. Former Ambassador Jon Huntsman (LR: 4)
Jon Stewart pretty much nailed Huntsman’s appeal last week: he’s Mitt Romney for people who think Romney’s got too much name recognition. Seriously, why on earth would someone choose Huntsman over Romney? It doesn’t make sense. They’re both Mormon, both from what passes for the moderate wing of the GOP, both former governors of mid-sized states.
And this has me wondering: who is Huntsman stalking for?
Because the more I think about it, the more I think that Huntsman isn’t really running for president. Oh, he’s going through the motions. He’ll take the nomination if he gets it. And maybe he builds name recognition for 2016 if the GOP loses.
But I don’t think that’s why he’s running now. I think he’s running to siphon support from Romney, and make the path easier for another GOP candidate.
This is hardly unheard of. Tom Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, is widely believed to have been a stalking horse for Hillary Clinton in 2008, someone who could siphon support from John Edwards and help her to a win in Iowa. (It didn’t work out.)
Huntsman’s campaign as a campaign for the presidency doesn’t make sense. But his campaign as interference for Pawlenty, perhaps, makes a certain amount of sense — both were governors at the same time, after all. (I doubt he’s stalking for Palin, as some think — she’s not Machiavellian enough to think of that. And Bachmann is Bachmann.)
Anyhow, this is a long, roundabout way of saying that Huntsman is not going to be the GOP nominee, though as usual, I must add that I don’t see how anyone else can be, either.
7. Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn. (LR: 7)
Santorum doesn’t win this time around, because there’s nothing much changing in his world. He remains an afterthought on the right wing, lacking the wow factor of Bachmann or the novelty of Cain, and certainly not the media darling that Sarah Palin is.
It may be unfortunate for the guy (though good for America), but Santorum’s moment has come and gone. He was hip and edgy back when he was talking about man-on-dog love, but now that’s just cliché. It’s been done to death. And so Santorum is stuck looking for breathing room in a field that’s turned to Bachmann.
Santorum’s best and only hope is just to keep his head down and hope that Bachmann implodes, as Cain seems to be doing (more on that in a moment). If he can end up the last man standing on the far right, the True Believers might turn to him by default. But that’s a big if – they may just as easily decide that they’re better off with President Romney than running a guy who lost by 20-odd points last time he was on a ballot.
8. Herman Cain (LR: 6)
Cain drops this week on the news that he’s lost staffers in Iowa. That’s not a deathblow, of course, but it happens at the same time Bachmann’s star is on the rise. My suspicion is that the far right wants to coalesce around one standard-bearer, leading God’s Own Army against the Black Kenyan Marxist Muslim Usurper. Cain can’t falter much, or that will make it much easier on Bachmann.
9. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga. (LR: 9)
Gingrich’s campaign has shown no life whatsoever, and I don’t think that’s going to change, because I think Newt, like Fred Thompson before him, has no interest in actually running for president. Oh, he likes showing up on debates and getting invited on talk shows, but the actual grind of shaking hands and kissing babies? No thank you.
Given that the first states in the race — Iowa and New Hampshire — are big into retail politics, Newt is doomed.
This is, of course, a grand thing, as Newt is evil, venal, and hateful, and would be a disastrous president. Of course, he’d be a less disastrous president than Michele Bachmann, but let’s not dig too deep into it, shall we?
10. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich. (LR: NR)
In all seriousness, prior to this week I didn’t know McCotter was actually a real person and not a J.K. Rowling character, and if you’re honest, you didn’t either. I see from the interwebs that he’s a standard-issue Tea Partier, which makes me wonder whether he might not be a stalking horse for Mitt Romney. Because an unknown backbencher running for President makes no sense, unless he’s trying to steal support from a better-known backbencher. And he might be.
Or he might actually think he could win. Who knows?
11. Former Ambassador John Bolton (LR: 7)
I really don’t have any idea why Bolton is running for president. Maybe he’s a stalking horse. Heck, maybe all the GOP candidates are stalking horses. It would make much more sense than them being actual candidates. Maybe it’s all a Xanatos gambit by Jeb Bush. Is it irresponsible to speculate? It would be irresponsible not to!
Anyhoo, I don’t have anything to say about Bolton. He’s got less than no chance, even in this pathetic field.
12. Former N.M. Gov. Gary Johnson (LR: 10)
Johnson drops slightly based on the fact that everyone’s forgotten he’s running for president already, except maybe Glenn Greenwald, who once touted Johnson as a potential third-party candidate the left could rally around. And I’m sure all those pro-life, anti-union lefties will any minute now.
Johnson’s only real moment in the past couple months came when he debated a Barack Obama impersonator on Fox Business, which was just as awful as it sounds. Will he be president? No. No he won’t.
Johnson has no constituency with Ron Paul in the race. There’s barely room for one libertarianish spoiler in the GOP field; there’s no room for two. Johnson’s campaign seems doomed, unless he bolts and runs as a true Libertarian. And then it’s even more doomed.
13. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (LR: 11)
Palin remains firmly outside the top tier for a couple of reasons. First, I remain unconvinced that she intends to run. Her decision to quit her bus tour halfway through is more evidence (as if any was needed) that Palin has completely given up on hard work. She’s making a nice living conning righties out of their money; running for president would just screw that up.
The second reason she falls this time around is all about Michele Bachmann. Quite simply, Bachmann is Palin without the Palin baggage, and with a lot more drive. Oh, Michele has an equal amountsof bizarre backstory to Our Lady of Wasilla. But it’s not known nationwide. And one thing Bachmann has that Palin lacks is a work ethic. Michele will go door to door in Iowa and New Hampshire if she must; Sarah will only do that if it gets her a new reality show.
No, Palin has dropped not just because she won’t commit to the race, but because at this point, there’s a solid replacement in her place on the extreme right fringe of the extreme right fringe. Even if Palin got in, I think Bachmann’s position would prevent her from doing much of anything.
14. Jimmy “The Rent is Too Damn High” McMillan (LR: 12)
I haven’t yet decided whether McMillan is more Vermin Supreme or more Jonathon Sharkey. He’s certainly no Alan Keyes, but he’s surpassed Ole Savior. To me, that I’m even having this debate is proof that McMillan has achieved his goal: to be though of as one of those goofy fringe candidates everyone loves to ignore. Mission accomplished, Jimmy. Mission accomplished.
15. Former La. Gov. Buddy Roemer (LR: 13)
Why is Buddy Roemer running for president? I’ve considered every possibility, and the only conclusion I can draw is that he’s really, really bored. I mean, Roemer is too weak a candidate even to serve as a stalking horse, and his natural constituency of…well, he doesn’t have a natural constituency, so…yeah.
16. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (LR: 15)
I really, really hope Mayor 9/11 decides to throw his hat in the ring. Mainly for the lulz. I don’t have any idea why anyone would think he could do anything if he got into the race; I know the field is weak, but don’t people remember that he tried this back in 2008, and failed utterly?
If Rudy wants to be president…that’s tough luck. Lots of people want to be president. But he’s too liberal on social issues for the GOP, and too reactionary on everything else for the Democrats.
17. Fred Karger (LR: 17)
Karger maintains exactly the strong standing one would expect for an out gay activist running for the GOP nomination. Put it this way — the husband of the GOP frontrunner, who is not an out gay man, has gone on record as saying that gays are “barbarians” who “need to be disciplined.” And that he’s just the man to discipline as many gay men as possible. That this has not measurably affected Bachmann explains why Karger has absolutely no chance of winning the GOP nomination.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (LR: 14)
Christie is showing no signs of actually running, and at this point, he’d really need to be at least making noise about considering it. This isn’t surprising; the man is loathed in New Jersey, and frankly doesn’t appear to have much base other than bullies and loudmouths — and those people are backing Bachmann right now. Rick Perry has supplanted him as the Great White Hope for the Republicans; there’s no reason to expect Christie will enter the race.
Former Ambassador Alan Keyes (LR: 16)
It kills me to do this, but I have to; there’s no indication that Alan Keyes is going to run for President in 2012. This would mark the first Keyesless presidential race since 1996. Who will tie every problem in America to abortion rights? Other than Bachmann, Santorum, and possibly Palin, that is?
Actually, I think I understand why Keyes is stepping aside. His work is done. He’s spread his message, and now it’s time for his disciples to go forth and destroy America. His work here is done. Godspeed, Mr. Neckbeard. Godspeed.
1. President Barack Obama (LR: 1)
If there was any doubt that Obama remains in an essentially impregnable position, his campaign’s announcement that he’s raised money from half a million donors so far should dispel it. For all the whining from the not-really-the-base, Obama has strong support from the left, especially given the candidates vying for the nomination on the right.
Frankly, there’s just not much room to attack Obama if one is being fair to him. It’s not that he’s perfect on every issue (his education policy is terrible, for example). But imperfect though he is, he’s still succeeded in pushing more progressive legislation through in his first term than any president since Johnson. And given that he now faces a hostile Congress, a president who’s able to keep his head down and negotiate hard is going to be more successful than one who bloviates and gets rolled.
I really don’t see any way possible for a primary challenge to Obama to draw more than a pittance of support. Oh, it may draw loud squawkers over at FireDogLake, but they represent far less of the Democratic Party than they think they do.
2. Randall Terry (LR: NR)
Last seen trying to keep Teri Schiavo alive against her will, anti-choice freak Randall Terry is thus far the only candidate to challenge Obama. He’s hoping to embarrass Obama by taking a few delegates in Iowa. Good for him, I guess, and good luck, because the anti-choicers in Iowa are far more likely to be trying to stop Mitt Romney from getting the endorsement than they are to try to embarrass Obama by getting two delegates from the state.
The only reason to be interested in Terry’s position in the race is to see if he’s embraced at any point by the emoprogs. I know, it sounds ludicrous, but I can see the possibility of someone on the left trying to argue that embarrassing that conservative Obama means embracing Terry, because…something.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio (LR: 2)
Kucinich has ruled out a run, and more important, is busy trying to find somewhere to run for Congress from, as he’s being redistricted out; one would think he’d stay in Ohio, but I find the concept of him moving to Washington state amusing.
With Kucinich, Howard Dean, and Russ Feingold all ruling themselves out of the 2012 race, it’s hard to imagine any vaguely credible candidate actually challenging Obama in a primary. Yes, it’s possible Jane Hamsher could run, and in a way, I’d love to see her do it, just to explain why her taking four percent of the primary vote is proof that Obama is doomed. But I doubt that we’ll see anyone of consequence enter the race; the fact is that Obama is pretty popular among Democrats, and moreover, that most Democrats realize that they’re unlikely to find a better candidate waiting in the weeds. Certainly not one suicidal enough to challenge a sitting president.