"It's a circus. You guys are part of the circus...This is stuff they talk about. They'll talk about somebody else next week. I'm here to be a United States senator from Florida and the best senator I can. I mean that. That's what I ran for and that's what I want to be."
A few hours into his very first term as a U.S. senator, Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) had the occasion -- nay, the pressing need -- to say those words to a clutch of Capitol Hill reporters who were bothering him about whether or not he was going to run for President in 2012. I felt for Rubio: Reporters like the ones he was dealing with are stupid and insane people. Like magpies, their brains are the size of a cashew and they are attracted to shiny objects.
And Rubio is right about the whole thing being a circus. Or a carnival. Or a freakshow, at least. Candidates fill the tent, each with roles to play. The most dextrous ascend the heights. The clumsy ones fall into the nets. Over on the side, you'll catch the one or two who are here to just bite the head off a chicken. The midway fills with the clowns and mystics of the media, there to amuse and/or befuddle us. The air smells vaguely of cotton candy and animal fur and shame -- always the shame.
It's a rampaging mess of sight-gags, flubs, and speculative nonsense. But we're here to try to help sort it all out, by helping you, at the very least, keep all of the characters straight. Today, we'll introduce you to them, and every week, we'll briefly run down everything you really, honestly need to know about what's going on in their lives. Because while it is fun to watch all these various wannabes gambol across the political stage, it's no fun being told that you have to take them all equally seriously.
Barbour, the current governor of Mississippi and chair of the Republican Governors' Association, is widely believed to be mulling a run for the White House. He's giving us mixing messages: He's told reporters, for instance, that he won't be making any big decisions until the spring of 2011. On the other hand, one of his advisers recently told CNN: "He's running until he says he's not." It's all so very post-modern! In the meantime, he's paving his way. You'd think that his long career as a lobbyist wheeler-dealer might work against him in this age of anger toward special interests and sub-rosa government grift, but Barbour doesn't see it that way: "The first thing a president's going to have to do when he takes his hand off the Bible is start lobbying...He's going to need to lobby Congress. He's going to need to lobby the bureaucracy. He's going to need to lobby the governors. He's going to need to lobby our allies and our international competitors." For starters, he is going to lobby Israel, to support his candidacy. It's also fun to note that Barbour doesn't remember the Civil Rights era being all "that bad." Hey, you know, he probably remembers it very differently from most people! Barbour typically polls in the single digits in available 2012 GOP nomination polls. Intrade currently gives Barbour a 4% chance of winning the nomination.
My, my! Somehow, when no one was looking, Jeb Bush became the hot new thing in 2012 presidential candidacies! National Review put Jeb on their cover, and provided eight reasons that he should run, and run now. SO OMGZ, JEB BUSH FEVER: CATCH IT, AMIRITE? Actually, no. Even as the pressure intensifies on him to consider a 2012 bid, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush indicated that he's not reconsidering his decision to not run for president. "Yes," Bush wrote in an email when asked if the door remained firmly shut on a White House campaign next year. Thanks for making that quick and painless, Jeb.
Mitch Daniels isn't going to blow anyone away with the force of his charisma, but as a workaday, plain-spoken, conservative wonk, he's been more than equal to the task of charming Indiana's voters. In 2008, Daniels rode his reputation as a government reformer to an impressive re-election victory. He's been busy over the past year, managing the "door" to the 2012 election in such a way that it remains slightly "ajar" without being open to a full commitment. In February of 2010, Daniels put it like so, "Just to get them off my back, I agreed to a number of people that I will now stay open to the idea" of running for president. Like Barbour, Daniels has signaled that he has no intention of making a decision before the spring of 2011. In the meanwhile, he's staking out the type of territory that might earn him the stamp of approval from the "No Labels" types -- decrying the "savagery of our politics" and suggesting that the GOP comport themselves in a serious manner: "I would like to see our party conduct itself in a way that allows it to govern and not merely win an election." To that end, he's called for a "truce" in the culture wars. But he seems to be willing to go nuclear on Social Security: "What Bush tried to do [in proposing private accounts for Social Security] was mild compared to what needs to be done." Daniels tends to poll in the low single digits among potential GOP nominees. Intrade currently gives him a 8% of winning the nomination.
Newt Gingrich, the figure at the center of 1994's GOP takeover of the House of Representatives, is born anew in the light of recent Republican gains and the possibility that he's actually in a marital relationship he seems to want to stick with this time around. He's been a fixture on the Sunday Morning chatfests, at times accusing President Barack Obama of running a "secular-socialist machine" and endorsing Dinesh D.Souza's weird "Kenyan anti-colonialist" take on Obama. At other times, Sunday morning's viewers have seen Gingrich teaming up with Al Sharpton to support the White House's education agenda. There's something for everyone, I guess! To be confused by, I mean. What Gingrich is doing with increasing clarity is solidifying his position on a potential 2012 run. In early December, he made an appearance on "Fox News Sunday" in which he said he was "much more inclined" to make a run than he was to sit out. Also making him more inclined is the substantial amount of cash he's raised for a run: Ken Vogel reports that steady fundraising has put Gingrich way ahead of the other potential candidates as far as war chests go. In the meantime, Gingrich has won a lifetime membership to a Dallas strip club. The man's capacity for accumulating prestige simply knows no bounds. Poll averages of the potential GOP nominee field have Gingrich placed as a competitive entree. Intrade currently gives him a 5.3% chance of winning the nomination.
Mike Huckabee has been feeling a little bit disrespected, lately: "I just don't understand how it is that a person can read these polls day after day and the narrative is constantly everybody but me." He has a point! In most polls, Huckabee tends to run strong -- a late October CNN poll even had him in the poll position. Add to that his surprise success in 2008's Iowa caucuses -- success that could easily be repeated -- and the fact that he doesn't drag around the negative baggage of a Sarah Palin, and we're talking about a guy who's got something of a path to the top of the heap. But Huckabee's lack of respect is probably directly tied to his lack of cash -- and I seem to recall that his lack of ready wealth was something that Huckabee mentioned as something that was keeping him on the 2012 speculative sidelines. Nonetheless, it's a factor. Here's AllahPundit on December 6: "It's not a done deal that he's running. He had to scrounge for funds to keep his campaign going two years ago and he just took out a huge mortgage to build his new home in Florida, so unless he's got evangelical leaders ready to help him pass the collection plate around, money is a major issue." He continues: "Even so, if Palin decides not to run and Mitt looks like a prohibitive frontrunner early, does anyone seriously think he won't jump in? Social conservative votes will be there for the taking, and you know he's just itching to vanquish that pointy-headed white-collar Romney who went to all the right schools 'n stuff. If Palin does run then his decision is tougher, since the longer he waits, the more time she'll have to solidify her support among the same constituencies he's targeting." In short, a decent foundation for a run, but lot of "ifs." This is why -- despite the decent poll numbers -- Intrade only gives Huck a 8.7% chance of securing the nomination.
While Jeb Bush is this week's flavor, last week's flavor was definitely Jon Huntsman, who will be leaving his post as the U.S. Ambassador to China to test the presidential waters. Most of what I have to say about Huntsman has already been said. Howard Fineman's more bullish than I, and here's Steve Kornacki finding a way to be both bearish and bullish. One thing's for sure, Huntsman is probably glad to be able to quickly generate this sort of buzz. After all, Obama, sensing Huntsman's possibilities as a challenger back when we all thought the GOP was going to be a lot more moderate, formed an alliance and packed him off to Beijing so that he couldn't build an opposition profile. Jennifer Rubin, sensing the fact that the worst thing anyone can say about the guy is that he should maybe wait two more years to run for office, fingers Huntsman as the "Liberal media's pet candidate." She's probably more right than she knows when she jokes: "This sounds like PR for No Labels." I basically had the same thought, "This guy would be the poster boy for No Labels." And then started thinking about how hilarious a "No Labels" presidential primary would be. And then I wondered how I might get some weed to smoke as I watched that unfold.
At one point, there was no pastime more popular among Beltway speculators than the "will she or won't she" saga of Sarah Palin's potential Presidential ambitions. On the one hand, she seems to be doing many of the things you do to position yourself for a Presidential run: you put out some books, build a team of advisers, make a slew of campaign endorsements. On the other hand, she's doing things that one doesn't do -- or at the very least, that one has hitherto never done -- when you want to be taken seriously as a candidate: have a reality show, put your daughter on a teevee dancing competition, have the thinnest skin of any politician in America... And then there was her memorable statement in the wake of the shootings in Tucson. Let me summarize it: "Meeeeeee! MEEEEEEEE!!!" That just about cashed it with the punditocracy, and her brand all but collapsed. Palin's staking out her future in undiscovered territory, and frankly, that seems to be just the way she likes it. Palin's made great advantage of being able to define her own terms with the media, only leaving her social media aerie to play in the softest of softball matches. For the time being, the media is letting her define the rules of engagement -- Time's recent cover story, for instance, was based entirely on email interviews. If she becomes a credible candidate, the press will inevitably attempt to change those terms. (Dana Milbank made a recent foray here, in making a pledge for a Palin-free February.) The looming question is this: when they try to change the terms, where will the backlash land -- on Palin or on the press? As far as those possibilities go, she remains near the top in most speculative polls on the 2012 GOP nomination.
Pawlenty -- or as the kids call him, TPaw -- comes to the race as something of a cipher. As a McCain campaign hanger-on, he presented himself as a capable -- if a little bland -- spokesman, and was in the mix as a possible running mate. As a governor, he carried himself as a technocratic, managerial type. Post-election, he's hit the conservative event circuit with a newfound love of social conservative dog-whistling. And as his term as governor slumps to a halt, there's an expectation that he'll fashion himself some sort of coalition and make a try for the White House. And so, you get the usual I'm-running-for-President noises: He's got a PAC set up, a book on the way, and dates in Iowa and New Hampshire planned. It's probably not that great that the best Jonah Goldberg can say about him is that he's the "least disliked" of any of the potential frontrunners. It's definitely not great that another Handsome Man Of The Midwest, John Thune, is mulling a run of his own. That's okay, though, because apparently the Pawlenty candidacy is a summer blockbuster, directed by Michael Bay! It really makes you wonder what the field would look like if Pawlenty had ended up McCain's running mate, instead of Palin! Pawlenty's a perennial also-ran in most speculative polls. Intrade has him at 8.8%. That's just a shade ahead Huckabee, but that's probably more a measure of Intrade's lack of faith in Huck's ability to finance a campaign then it is about Pawlenty's relative strength.
Meet your putative front-runner, Mitt Romney, the Massachusetts Governor who won the 2008 GOP Nomination Silver Medal. That typically puts you next in line for the nomination. Here come the howevers, however. He has the propensity to abandon his policy principles when he feels like people will like him better -- a quality that has recently drawn comparisons to the Olive Garden (this, from David Frum, was intended as a compliment -- I like Frum a lot, but it just doesn't track). He's recently penned op-eds coming out on the losing side of the tax cut compromise and the START treaty (Romney fancies himself to be a cutting-edge foreign policy thinker, which is adorable, but in 2008 he was routinely chewed up and shat out by John McCain, who took a special glee in schooling Mitt). And the big problem is that the GOP is set to go nuclear on the health care mandate -- which is Romney's key policy innovation. There are parallel universes where Romney's a great match for the top of the GOP's ticket: He's relatively sane, he's worked across the aisle, he's capable of projecting a sunny and technocratic capitalism, and he got the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics unmired from its rut of grift and graft. If the economy wasn't so terrible, and if Tea Partyist tyranny-mongering weren't the order of the day, he'd probably win the nomination in a walk. As it stands, he's left ground for others -- Palin, Huckabee, Gingrich -- to occupy. And he has John Thune closing in the rear view. Don't call it a shoo-in. And even thought Jon Huntsman is in the mix now, and that's neat-o keen, please do not call it "the Mormon primary."
Rick Santorum has apparently discovered a strange alternate reality in which the public is clamoring for him to run for president, and has decided to live out that dream in our reality. It's going to be interesting! He's apparently spent more time in Iowa already than any of the other putative nominees. That strategy worked wonders for John Edwards, if you recall. That said, Santorum has actually outraised Huckabee and Pawlenty, so his would-be candidacy is resonating with someone, I guess. And George Will recently declared Santorum to be made of presidential material (it's too bad that the president he compared Santorum to was Richard Nixon.) Of course, Santorum is best known for being the name of a very risque internet neologism, so he's got that going for him. But this is a candidate that the Obama administration doesn't dare to even dream of drawing as a nominee.
John Thune is handsome, and Midwestern, and conservative. He doesn't have the flip-flop, bendy-fraud problems that Mitt Romney has. He seems capable of financing a run for president, unlike Mike Huckabee. People do not sicken in revulsion at the sound of his name, like Sarah Palin. And unlike Rick Santorum, who imagines himself to be an in-demand prospect for the GOP nomination, Thune is the guy who actually stuck his toe in the water and got a lot of establishment types to urge him into the shallows. At some point, he'll do something "interesting" that will either enhance his chances or diminish them. Right now, the most "interesting" thing he's doing is suggesting he might not run, because his wife doesn't want to have to be insulted by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. That is really all we have to say about John Thune right now.
Will someone present a primary challenge to Obama? Probably not a credible one! And the chatter has been, in Sam Stein's estimation "comical." But what the hell, here's the story, such as it is: So far, Obama has drawn anti-abortion performance artist Randall Terry as a "primary candidate." Assuming that's a real thing. You'll likely hear some chit-chat in the next few months about how Hillary Clinton should take on Obama in a primary. She totally shouldn't! She'd lose badly! Know who else would lose badly? Howard Dean. Bernie Sanders would lose so badly that "badly" almost doesn't manage to cover the badness of how badly he'd lose. Trust me on this! Because people can't help but read into the remarks of politicians and divine the most far-fetched possible intentions, you'll hear people buzz about Russ Feingold running against Obama. Please do not wager a significant amount of your personal worth on that possibility. If we're basically writing 2012 Primary Season Fanfic, here, toss in Alan Grayson and -- you know, what the hell -- Darcy Burner's names into the mix of possible primary opponents that might happen, depending on how insane everyone decides to get in the next few months. Oh, there's also Alvin Greene. Can't wait for his diary at DailyKos, which will probably consist of affidavits from his obscenity trial and recipes for bathtub Four Loko.
Then there are some people who are the longest of shots, but still compelling enough to mention. For example: John Bolton, of the perpetually angry at everyone Boltons, has been sniffing around the nethers of possibly thinking about running for President on a platform of torching the U.N. and the "ground zero mosque." Also coming out of the anger-and-resentment wing of the GOP is Rudy Giuliani, who ran in 2008 following this insane strategy of waiting for the Florida primary and hoping that everyone else running for President spontaneously combusted. Can I interest you in some Mike Pence? I shouldn't have to! Pence has said that he doesn't want to run for President, and people think that he is probably mulling a run for the Indiana statehouse. But here's the thing: Pence is pretty reliably confused about basic things, and so he might accidentally start running for president, you never know with that guy. Bobby Jindal, last seen loudly demanding that the federal government build him some massive sand berms in this incredibly misguided oil spill mitigation tactic, is in the mix as well. George Pataki is thinking about throwing his hat into the ring, something that will likely only result in a mild rebuke depending on what the local ring-littering statutes are in his area. But fine: You want some long shots that might make things interesting if they get into a debate and start cracking the facade of the GOP establishment? Check out Fred Karger -- a GOP gay activist with deep roots and real party bonafides. Also, give some thought to Herman Cain -- an African-American conservative radio host who's got authentic grassroots cred.
They say they're not running but...you know: If they happen to get upwind of David Gregory anytime in the next few months, the Meet The Press host will just start reflexively asking "Are you running for president? Are you running for president? Are you running for president?" over and over and over and over again. Folks, we're talking about guys like Rick Perry: No matter how many times or different ways he tells people he doesn't want to be president, he just can't shake that rumor that he wants to make a run for the White House. The steadily cohering consensus on Chris Christie is that he maybe wants to be first in line for the vice-presidency, but as long as people fetishize Christie's ability to make loud screeches at his constituents and package it as a viral video, people will wonder if he shouldn't run for president as well. I mean, people still think Marco Rubio should run for president, apparently in the belief that he will set some sort of world record for statesmanship in the first 15 days of his Senate career. Other possibilities include: Joe Lieberman, Tom Coburn, David Petraeus, Tom Coburn's beard, Jim Demint, Scott Brown, other unnamed swaths of facial hair, etc.
Of course, no compendium of 2012 speculation would be complete without mentioning all of the fantastic third party choices that will capture the imagination of tens of dozens of people. The most speculation, by far, will center on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, because he's titanically rich and will have nothing to do after his last term as mayor ends (except, who knows, maybe he'll run for another). Bloomberg has been in full denial mode, but because he keeps making speeches about America, the media keeps considering these things "stump speeches." He's also become one of the public faces of "No Labels," a political party-looking thing that everyone says isn't really a political party -- it's just a group of people who like to have hugs and feelings, make exciting new Twitter hashtags about "centrism," and just generally give Harold Ford, Jr. something to do while his flacks try to figure out in what state he pays income tax. From there, we really start hitting the oddballs. Jimmy McMillan is apparently considering a "run" for the White House, as part of some national version of his The Rent Is Too Damn High Party. Then there's Donald Trump, who might run as part of some national version of his Where Did My Housing Bubble Go I Was Sort Of Counting On That Because It Pretty Much Forms The Entire Basis Of My Business Model/Existence Party. So, yes: America is basically getting the third party candidates it deserves.
|Seats gained or lost||+2||-2|