06/21/2011 02:09 pm ET | Updated Aug 21, 2011

Who Will Be The 2012 GOP's 'Candidate-To-Be-Named-Later?' (VIDEO)

Now that former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has jumped into the 2012 presidential fray, the GOP's field of candidates is firmer than ever. And yet, odds are that Huntsman's entry will not ameliorate the big problem faced by the GOP's 2012 candidates: Republican voters just aren't all that into them. The most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that GOP primary voters are evenly split between satisfaction and the lack thereof:

According to the poll, 45% of Republican voters who said they plan to participate in the GOP primary said they were satisfied with their party's choices, the same percent who said they were dissatisfied.

At the same point in the election cycle last time around, 73% of GOP voters said they were satisfied with their candidates, versus only 18% who said they were not. And in 1996, a 68% majority of GOP voters were pleased with the party's options to take on President Clinton, while 31% were not.

And in late May, the Pew Research Center found the news to be similarly bad for the field:

Even Republicans and Republican-leaning independents use mostly negative words to describe their party's presidential candidates.

Nearly four-in-ten (37%) use a negative word, 22% a positive word and 18% a neutral description.

"Unimpressed" is the top descriptor among Republicans and Republican leaners, with 17 mentions.

The folks from Pew created this handy little word cloud, to help us visualize what "unimpressed" looks like:

I mean, that's not so bad, right? I see "good" and "qualified" and "interesting" in there. But the fact remains that voters seem to have this feeling that the GOP could do better. And you'll hear some basic agreement in the words of on-air pundits and 2012 touts. Everyone seems to have the name of a "candidate-to-be-named-later" at the ready.

[Video produced by Sara Kenigsberg.]

In some cases, we're talking about 'white knight' candidates who have steadfastly remained on the sidelines, eternally begging off, but who might change their mind if enough pundits ask. There's also another group of would-be contenders who have flirted with the idea, or haven't ruled it out, or have otherwise sent enough mixed messages to make it seem like they might opt in to a candidacy. Hopes continue to percolate around a number of candidates who have already flirted with running and decided against it. And there are Republicans who are so often in the news that the media has just decided they should be candidates as well.

So, speculation about future contenders is going to remain a feature of the 2012 race for the time being at the very least. Let's run down all the distant possibilities.

Jeb Bush

Back in February, the National Review's Rich Lowry had eight reasons why Jeb Bush should run for President, among them being a weak field that would welcome his involvement, an urgency that suggested he had to get in now instead of waiting until 2016, and the feeling that he could be a candidate that unites all of the GOP's various factions under one banner. Jeb's been working behind the scenes to revive both his family's brand name and the GOP's fortunes in general. Despite this, the political air still carries the pungent scent of Bush fatigue, and the GOP base? Well, they might not be ready to get united. As Stanley Greenberg opined: "He is more of a genuine conservative than Romney," but the question is, "does his immigration position get him into primary trouble?"

BOTTOM LINE: The answer to that question is, basically, "yes." I feel that there's a White House run in Jeb's future. But the mood of the electorate is angry, immoderate, and entering the 2012 fray might only end up damaging Jeb's brand. He's got every reason to hold off, and every sign points to him doing precisely that.

Chris Christie

New Jersey's Governor has been a hot commodity ever since he defeated Jon Corzine and developed a near-pornographic reputation for self-indulgent displays of dyspepsia in public. Those outbursts unerringly found their way to YouTube, and broadly appealed to the angry GOP base. That affection occasionally translates well in polls: PPP recently found that if Christie were to enter the race as a part of a larger shake-up of the field, he would rise to the top of the heap. But this masks a broader unpopularity that's been on the rise: the latest Quinnipiac poll finds Christie with his lowest home-state approval rating ever. And Christie's been his own worst enemy more than once: the latest flap occurred when Captain Frugal took a ride on a helicopter to his son's baseball game. (Christie eventually reimbursed taxpayers for the trip.)

BOTTOM LINE: Christie probably knows that he's more a creature of hype than he is of substance at the moment, so it seems very likely that he'll stay in New Jersey and try to build a portfolio on which to run later. His dismissals of 2012 speculation have run to the extreme: sometimes he says he'll commit suicide rather than run, other times he says that his wife will murder him. But he nevertheless seems to have ambitions -- the fact that he's suddenly not sure about evolution indicates that he has his eyes on voters beyond the Garden State.

Mitch Daniels

Mitch Daniels was the elite GOP pundit choice for president, because he's white and bland and non-confrontational and is largely thought of as a guy who likes doing budget stuff. (Which explains why elite GOP pundits loved him so much -- they are the principal drivers of the fluffy-headed deficit panic feedback loop.) Daniels gave the matter some consideration, and opted out after it was clear that rival campaigns were going to try to shovel muck hither and yon over his marital history. But with Tim Pawlenty tanking, and the hopes of a bland Romney alternative tanking along with him, I imagine that there might be some attempt to coax Daniels into changing his mind. As it stands, he's left the door open, somewhat, to a vice-presidential run.

BOTTOM LINE: I think he's out, full stop. But now that there's chatter about John Thune changing his mind (more on that in a minute), why not start speculating on a Daniels re-entry?

Jim DeMint

South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint is probably not running for President. But he is going to great lengths to keep everyone confused about his ambitions. Earlier this month, DeMint made news when he let slip that he and his wife had "talked about" maybe running for president. He told The Hill that he was "considering running for president after frustrated conservative activists have pleaded with him to run" and that he had "discussed a White House bid with his wife and will pray on the question out of respect for his supporters across the country." This touched off a mini-frenzy of speculation, which DeMint's spokesperson, Wesley Denton, had to go and shoot down. Nevertheless, the Draft DeMint forces continue their cajoling: they held a rally in Greenville, South Carolina just this past weekend.

BOTTOM LINE: DeMint is probably perfectly content handing down ideological litmus tests ahead of the South Carolina primary, though this might change if it looks like the Democrats might nominate Alvin Greene.

Rudy Giuliani

I'm not sure on what basis Rudy Giuliani believes he had a viable shot at the nomination -- 9/11 revivalism, maybe? But from time to time, polls have suggested he'd be a welcome inclusion to the field -- some have even accorded him front-runner status. And so speculation has been rampant. Giuliani himself has suggested that he'd jump into the race if the primary seemed likely to yield an extreme-right candidate -- why he thinks that environment would welcome a candidate who promised to run against extremes is a bit of a bafflement. He's also made it clear that he doesn't like the frontrunning Mitt Romney, despite the fact that he's currently the best hope of anyone who'd rather the primary process yield someone who's not an extreme right candidate. Bill Kristol maintains that "reliable sources" tell him that Giuliani's entry is imminent, however, and Rudy has been skulking around New Hampshire a lot, so you never know.

BOTTOM LINE: Giuliani says that the lesson he learned in 2012 was that it was a mistake for him to allow the rest of the GOP field to establish itself by waiting too long to start competing. And so he's taken that lesson and is now...allowing the rest of the GOP field to establish himself by waiting to start competing. Not sure how this works!

Thad McCotter

Representative Thad McCotter (R-Mich.) is best known for being a guitar enthusiast and solid wit -- the folks who stay up to watch Red Eye on Fox know him a frequent guest who cracks wise with the best of 'em. He also does not seem to like Mitt Romney very much. So, what's all this about him mulling a presidential bid? Well, as it turns out, the vagaries of the redistricting process in Michigan could end up eliminating his Congressional district. So, you know, if you're not doing anything else, why not run for President? (GUITAR SOLO.)

BOTTOM LINE: McCotter would basically be the most consistently entertaining presidential aspirant to ever top out at 1% in the polls.

Sarah Palin

Technically, Sarah Palin remains one of those candidates-to-be-named later, too, right? Everyone who does presidential polling treats Palin as a de facto contender, and throughout this young primary season, she's remained one of the field's more significant players -- most of the time, she's in double digits, and more often than not she's trailing only Mitt Romney. Palin's problem, of course, is that her popularity has a low ceiling -- her supporters would basically take a bullet for her, but by and large, she is intensely disliked. Still, knowing that her supporters would definitely show up to cast a primary vote for her, and knowing that Iowa and South Carolina are two early states that could provide Palinmentum, you still can see some fuzzy "path" to the nomination. And this past week, The American Spectator added fuel to the speculative fires by reporting that she'd be announcing a decision this week. (Palin denied this on Twitter.)

BOTTOM LINE: I don't think Palin is going to run, because she's probably concerned that there is a remote possibility that she'll end up getting precisely what she doesn't want out of her political career: a "job" that comes with "responsibilities."

George Pataki

Former New York Governor George Pataki is basically the 2012 candidate who no one is talking about, but who keeps saying things like, "I'm not running now" in the hopes that someone will ask him if he might change his mind in the future.

BOTTOM LIKE: The only thing holding back George Pataki's presidential ambitions is America's universal indifference to his very existence.

Rick Perry

Here's your flavor of the week, Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is suddenly mulling a Presidential run after spending a considerable amount of time over the past year explaining that being Governor of Texas was awesome and that the Federal Government should be shot into the center of the sun. But when Gingrich's campaign collapsed in a heap, Perry absorbed some of the defectors, and that's energized the Perry speculation. Perry's camp is now intimating that he'll make an announcement in July, which would buy him some time to actually erect a campaign infrastructure and staff. His appeal lies in his perceived ability to unify all the branches of the GOP. He's well supported by the conservative Christian fringe, his intense tentherism makes him a natural fit for the Tea Party, and he's garnered a good reputation among business elites based on the way he's run Texas. (He's basically been adept at adding minimum wage jobs to the state. You all realize that establishing a permanent wage-slave underclass is how the GOP will "solve unemployment," right? Oh! Well: SPOILER ALERT.)

BOTTOM LINE: Signs point to yes, which is amazing, considering his fondness for seccession. But Texans seem to prefer Ron Paul.

Marco Rubio

Florida Senator Marco Rubio basically gets into the speculative mix by dint of the fact that the media couldn't stop talking about him in 2010, and have gotten so used to talking about him that they won't leave him alone in 2012, either. They started haranguing Rubio about his 2012 aspirations mere hours after he officially became Florida's Senator, and have basically refused to concede the possibility that he might just quit his job after a few months to seek a new one. The way it works is that a reporter will talk about Rubio running for president, and by doing so, manufactures a "rumor" that he's running for president, and so all the other reporters are obliged to run after Rubio to ask him to address the "rumor." Hey, it beats working for a living!

BOTTOM LINE: He will eventually, one day, decide to run for President, and the media will hammer him for abandoning his constituents to further his personal ambition.

Paul Ryan

Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan basically gets into the speculative mix by dint of the fact that the media is talking about him and his budget plan every single day anyway, and when they're not, they are speculating on 2012, so why not just maximize synergy? If he's talked about, he must be important, and if he's important, he must want to be President!

BOTTOM LINE: Why on earth would Ryan want to be President? Right now, he enjoys A-list treatment from his easily-defended seat in the House, and is basically getting to dictate his party's major policy decisions. Many of those policy decisions are unpopular with undecided voters, but having to run on those policies or away from them is somebody else's problem.

John Thune

Like Mitch Daniels, John Thune was in the candidate mix early in the season, and like Mitch Daniels, he bowed out because his wife was worried about the effect the campaign scrutiny would have on their personal lives. But now Bill Kristol says that people are telling him that Thune is reconsidering his decision, and so maybe GOP voters will have a viable alternative to Tim Pawlenty.

BOTTOM LINE: It's Kristol making the prediction, so my advice is to take a short position.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump abandoned his fake campaign for president, but keeps making videos and going on teevee telling people that he hasn't entirely closed the door on future fake campaigns.

BOTTOM LINE: Everything he says is either stupid or a lie or both. Don't fall for this!

Generic Republican

An exciting new poll from Gallup this week suggests that "President Barack Obama would fall to an unnamed Republican candidate by a narrow margin if the election were held today." As Kristen Boyd Johnson puts it, this means that the "American people are now so cynical that the actual fact of being a Republican human running for office makes you less popular than the incumbent human currently busy bombing earth and sending SWAT teams after anti-war activists and student loan defaulters, so everyone would prefer to elect someone who is not a Democrat, and not real."

BOTTOM LINE: I don't know, it seems like Tim Pawlenty is having a lot of success being generic and unnamed and it's not doing him any good.

John McCain

Calling it now: Once all viable frontrunners are exhausted, the GOP nominee will be John McCain.less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone Favorite Retweet Reply


BOTTOM LINE: I mean, this is where all of this is heading, right?

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