One could argue the contrary: I'm not sure anyone has yet dared to announce he/she is running yet--though several folks clearly are in the race. Certainly I am one who has long argued that these campaigns are ridiculously long (there has been some progress for this cycle, with the first four electoral tests--still Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada--moving back a month or so), so I should welcome the delay in the launch of the campaign.
The fact is, though, that the first shots in the campaign have already been fired, by President Obama in the wake of his party's shellacking--his word for it, and so accurate it is accepted without quotation marks--in the midterms. His leadership of the lame-duck sessions' legislative whirlwind have positioned him well for the run-up to 2012. In the wake of the tax-cut deal and the progressive legislation he got through subsequently, he has improved his ratings with moderates--who were hungry for some sort of bipartisan agreement--and Democratic progressives have generally accepted that he will be their nominee and that they will support him.
So, then, who will he face? There have certainly been plenty of efforts to handicap the field, and I won't shirk from my own effort.
2012 GOPreview We start with the basic premise. The Republicans have two wings to their tent, the Old Guard and the invigorated Insurgents, and each will seek to promote their candidate(s), but at the end, they will converge on the candidate most likely to be able to compete on the national stage. I would argue that has been true of the Republicans in every election cycle since 1964. In this regard, the Republicans' Presidential nomination game is very different from their state party primaries, which often (as in 2010) produce extremist candidates poorly designed for general elections.
Second, the basic scenario, driven by the early primaries. Iowa's caucuses will produce a right-wing winner; New Hampshire a more moderate winner, probably Mitt Romney. South Carolina will confirm the New Hampshire winner and a right-wing challenger as the leading candidates. Nevada's caucuses may decide whether Romney can be stopped (it is worth noting that the state has a significant Mormon population); if not, the Super Tuesday primaries, especially Florida, would establish a clear leader, and the party would pull together quickly.
It sort of boils down to a) whether the insurgents, the right wing, and the TP faithful will be able to stop Romney, and right now many feel that they will, and b) who would be the one who wins the nomination in that case. This year could be the exception to the basic scenario and basic premise, though, in particular because Romney seems so vulnerable and there are no clear standouts to take his place. Certainly, if I were the party's mastermind director, I would want something like the 2008 Obama-Clinton knockdown/dragout battle, going all the way through the season, to keep the focus on the party and not on Obama and the Democrats.
I quote Jonah Goldberg of the National Review Online in his syndicated posting on the topic dated December 21:
By my count, there are 24 people who are beneficiaries of nontrivial presidential buzz: Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, John Thune, Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels, Mike Pence, Rick Santorum, Haley Barbour, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan, David Petraeus, Ron Paul, Jeb Bush, John Bolton, Bob McDonnell, Jim DeMint, Chris Christie, Herman Cain, Gary Johnson, Judd Gregg, Marco Rubio and Rick Perry.
And that is omitting some additional faces who admit to considering a run of their own: Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rudy Giuliani, Jon Huntsman and Buddy Roemer.
Like Goldberg, I have to deal rather summarily with a number of these 29 candidates to get down to a manageable analysis. Many of these clearly will not, and should not, run (2016 would be a much more strategic year to go for it, for one thing): Off the bat, I would eliminate Bush, Jindal, Petraeus, McDonnell, DeMint, Christie, Rubio, and Perry, as people who will not run this time. (The latter's going to have a big mess in Texas, now that his low-tax paradise state government has been revealed to have a huge budget deficit. See Paul Krugman's excellent discussion. ) Then there are those who may run or will run, but who clearly will not have a significant impact: Bolton, Johnson, Santorum, Roemer.
That still leaves 17 names! So, let's start knocking them out with some brief rationales:
Bachmann--I see her as a stand-in for Sarah Palin; if Palin announces she will withdraw and challenge (unsuccessfully) Amy Klobuchar for a Senate seat. If Palin doesn't run, she will run--badly. (Still, probably a better scenario for her than losing a Senate race--she can fail quickly and still run for re-election in her safe seat.)
Giuliani--He went into 2008 as something like a favorite and failed dismally; why should he have a better chance in 2012? We have almost forgotten he exists.
Trump--He'd be willing to spend lots of other people's money; I think he's shown that. Even more of an egotistical phony than Romney, it's hard to imagine his candidacy getting traction.
Cain--Sorry, I had to look up who he is: a black man, considered fairly intelligent but hard-core right, former CEO of Godfather's Pizza. The Tea Party's substitute for Clarence Thomas. Please.
Huntsman--He's Obama's ambassador to China, a former moderate governor of Utah. He has no constituency whatsoever.
Gregg--I don't think he will run, but Romney should make him his best buddy, take him on the side and offer him the V.P. job on his ticket, just in case, in order to make sure he doesn't run in New Hampshire as a favorite son. If he did that, he could stop Romney's bid right out of the gate. One of the better minds in the party, Obama offered him a Cabinet job but he turned him down.
Pence--I see him as one of the few with the intellectual heft to take on an Obama. A right-winger, he is playing it cagily: it seems he will probably run for Indiana governor if Mitch Daniels goes for the Presidential race, but he might throw his hat into the ring if Daniels doesn't, in which case he could be a serious candidate for the Insurgents.
Paul--I think he will run, and he will do a little better than he did in '08: there is a significant portion of Tea Party supporters who are real libertarians like him. Not enough, though, and his antiwar stances make him totally unacceptable to the Old Guard.
Ryan--He will have a chance to make a name for himself as chairman of the House Budget Committee and has a legitimate longshot opportunity. He's got to get a makeover, though: not only does he part his hair on the "wrong" side, it's practically on top of his head! I don't think most Republicans will think the winning strategy is to out-geek Obama, and I'd bet ultimately he won't run.
Pawlenty--He'll run--he's been running for years already--but few will notice and less will care. Hopefully, an also-ran result in Iowa will take care of him.
Thune--see Pawlenty. He is from neighboring South Dakota and thinks he can make an impression in Iowa--perhaps he will. I don't see him making the cut to top Insurgent, but I guess someone will (see below).
Barbour--an Old Guard governor of Mississippi, his political acumen is evident, but I think he will rightly be viewed as a man too much from the South's racist past, someone who could not beat Obama. Ultimately, I don't think he will run; he'd be a decent V.P. candidate except nobody needs him to win Mississippi for them.
This leaves five names: Daniels, Gingrich, Palin, Huckabee, and Romney. I think Daniels is too much a moderate, but if he can stay in the race, he might have a chance to pick up the pieces if Romney fades and the alternative is a sure November loser like Palin. Gingrich has good name recognition, but only a small core of loyal supporters, and his private morality is suspect to the right-wing purists, so his constituency is narrow. He will debate well but fall short when the race gets to larger-state popularity contests.
I still see the basic scenario playing out, with either Huckabee or Palin trying to stop Romney. Of the two, Huckabee would seem to have the better chance under the basic electability premise. And, there's still the possibility that either or both will not run (if neither runs, then Thune or Pence might make the final cut). Romney will definitely run, and he will win the nomination unless someone can stop him. His best shot is to neutralize the Insurgent threat, and he is trying to do that with maneuvers like opposing the tax cut deal. It looks as though he may have South Carolina's Senator Lindsey Graham in his camp, which will make him credible there but not necessarily a winner; Graham may even face a primary challenge from the right in '014, so he will be cautious about endorsing Romney if Mitt goes too far to the party's left.
Iowa's straw poll this August will be the first real data, and it may indicate who are the real Insurgent candidates with money, organization, and fire in the belly. With so many possible choices, there are bound to be at least a couple of them.
The question I have left is whether Huckabee has the desire and the organizational savvy to mount a credible campaign. If he does, Palin--who violates the basic premise, and who is better suited to be the gadfly rather than the workhorse--may step aside in his favor. Some of the Insurgent types will not be pleased, but the party and its money will rally to Huckabee if he shows he can win some primaries.
Here are the latest quotes, for those rating better than 99-1 odds, and any significant movement in them from two weeks ago: Romney 21.5 and steady; Palin 16.9 (down from 19.8 two weeks ago); Thune 10.7 and steady; Huckabee 9.0 (up from 7.0); Gingrich 4.9 and rising slowly; Daniels 9.5 (rising from 7.0); Pawlenty 6.4, slowly rising; Pence 4.2 (declining slowly); Barbour 2.2; Christie 2.8; Johnson 1.4; Paul 1.8; Rubio 1.7; Jeb Bush 1.4.
If I were investing, I would still say Huckabee's number is a bit low despite its increase, and that Daniels, Pawlenty, and Thune are too high (along with Christie, Johnson, Paul, Rubio, and Bush, who are all nothing more than sentimental longshot choices), and Paul Ryan's is a bit low at only 0.5. The real point of these odds is how low is Romney, the betting favorite.
The Democrats are seen to have a 58-59% chance of winning the 2012 Presidential election (up a couple of points recently), and Obama a 90% chance of getting the Democratic nomination. I'm looking forward to seeing odds on key 2012 states like Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, and Missouri, along with those on key Republican primaries, but the first won't happen until the Republican field boils down, and the second until some major candidates announce they're running, probably early this spring.