Suppose they held a series of Republican primaries and nobody showed up? No candidates, no primary voters, no one caring to caucus--then whom would they nominate?
My guess is it would have to be Mitt Romney, as he will be out there even if nobody else shows up.
So far, nobody else who should be considered a serious political adversary for President Obama has entered the race. Now, somebody could grow into the job, and somebody will be the anti-Romney in the primaries for those Republican voters who can't handle the Mitt, but that person is not yet evident.
Donald Trump? No, it was just a publicity stunt for his TV program. Sarah Palin? She's disappearing from relevance fast, regardless of whether she tosses her CPO jacket into the ring. Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Rick Perry, Haley Barbour--they all have declared themselves to have too much sense to go into this particular steel cage match, and Mitch Daniels is leaning outward from it (in spite of many trying to push him in).
So, who do they have in there? Gary Johnson, Herman Cain (today), Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul--I think all officially in. Jon Huntsman seems very likely to go in, and Michele Bachmann seems compelled to enter. There's a guy named Buddy Roemer, a former Louisiana governor (one who, incredibly, does not seem to have been convicted of a felony), who for some reason said he would run, though he was not allowed onstage in the first official debate, held by Fox News in South Carolina a couple of weeks ago, because he couldn't break the 1% barrier. (I forgot Rick "Sanctimonious" Santorum--go ahead, nominate him. I dare you.)
Numerically, it's enough to fill the stage, but not enough to provide for an interesting campaign. Gingrich has already self-destructed, violating the Republican script by labeling Ryan's proposed spending cuts "radical" and "right-wing social engineering"; for this truth-telling he was seriously punished, and it appears the old hands who guide the Republican contests didn't want him around, anyway.
The party's plutocratic old farts recognize in Romney the face of the Great Deceiver, so they like him OK, though they are worried he can't carry the day. That's why they are encouraging Daniels to run, and they are tolerating hacks like Huntsman and Pawlenty as contingency candidates if Romney should implode.
The real battle to me still looks to be one that has not yet emerged: between Romney and some right-wing champion who will oppose Romneycare and the tired, failed policies of supply-side economics and neo-con military interventionism. That paladin will be known by his/her white horse and primary win in Iowa. Ron Paul has the credentials to make that case, but will the evangelicals rally to him? Bachmann will hope not, and there's nothing too silly for her to say to turn them off, if she runs. I still see her as a stalking horse, though, not riding one like a knight in shining armor.
I was extremely surprised that Huckabee didn't run, given the very enticing polling numbers he had; Palin should've been able to fill that gap, but seems unready or unwilling. I think there's still a chance she will come in late, but there hasn't been a successful draft nomination campaign since Wendell Wilkie in 1940, and I don't think it's even been attempted since Henry Cabot Lodge in 1964--certainly not since Jimmy Carter changed the nomination game forever with his marathon run in 1976.
Riding the Ripples
Take the weak Republican field and add President Obama's moderate domestic policies and the huge national security success with the Bin Laden raid in Pakistan, and Democrats should be thinking landslide. Instead, regaining the House is very much in doubt, as is the party's chances of holding any kind of Senate majority, and the Presidential campaign is not talking to reporters about an aggressive 50-state smashing win, instead about focusing its resources in a few (less than a half-dozen) critical swing states.
Of course, they shouldn't be overconfident, especially at this early stage, and some of those key states--Ohio, Florida, Virginia--have critical, close races for Senate seats that the Democrats will need to hold to preserve their majorities. (The other two states where they plan a big push, according to this Roll Call article, are Colorado and North Carolina). On the other hand, Missouri, which will have another critical race as Claire McCaskill tries to defend her seat, seems off the priority map, while Nevada and New Mexico--both with key Senate races--are believed safe for the President (or maybe just too small in electoral votes to qualify as priority targets).
Why the bummer mentality? I'd cite two reasons: The first is the hangover from the 2010 elections, and the inevitable, unending slow-motion train wreck on the budget (and now on the debt ceiling). It's unclear whether the voters realize that they (or their fellow citizens, especially some of the non-voting ones) did a bad, bad thing last year. The polls indicate that the majority favoring Republican House candidates is gone, and they don't like the long-term budget resolution plotting the destruction of Medicare that all but four Republican House members (and no Democrats) supported, but they don't want the debt limit raised: they seem to believe the nonsense that we can just cut "waste, fraud, and abuse" and the Federal budget will balance.
Then there's the economy, which seems to have lost its momentum. In my descriptions of the Great Crater, I think I erred: the situation is more a fluid one, less a dry moonscape. Think of a giant whale being dropped into a lake with a Great Bellyflop. We have ridden through the initial wave that produced, and are now riding through the secondary troughs and peaks following, as the whale bobs back to the surface and disturbs the waters again.
It's way too soon to know where our ship of state will be in these unsettled waters in November, 2012, and it's also too soon to foresee the nature of the general election campaign (though the images of what I see as probable Obama-Romney debates are clear enough). I remain hopeful that 2012's ultimate outcome will provide evidence that is clear enough, even for the American electorate, that the Republican party, as it operates today, serves the interests of none of them, even the ones who habitually support it.
In this regard, I thought a recent Gallup poll on public interest in a third-party was interesting. Not that there was a slight majority seeking one; actually, that number has come down from previous high levels, and there is always a majority of independents who want another choice. What was interesting is that a majority of Republicans now want another party: This could reflect the Presidential race, it could be that there are large numbers of Tea party Republicans who find their party's leadership insufficiently obstinate, but I think it's a beginning of a realization that their whole shtick, whether it's preening militarism, 19th-century-style coddling of robber barons, nativism, Reagan-clone haircut pols, or class warfare against the lowest nine deciles of income earners, just isn't cutting it in the 21st century so far.