After three weeks of watching Rick Perry flail around in confusion and exhaustion, this was the week that something that had to finally give.
It began in Florida, with Herman Cain winning the state's Presidential 5 Straw Poll. It may seem hard to believe that another straw poll, at this late date, smaller in scope than August's big throwdown in Ames, Iowa, was going to have any sort of game changing effect on the race. But Perry had put his marker down on the Florida contest, working hard for a win. It didn't work out as he planned. So it makes a kind of sense that by week's end, Romney had re-emerged as the front-runner, Cain had risen to third place, and Perry was in a very shaky second.
But GOP elites just haven't cottoned to Romney's candidacy -- the problem he's had since the race began. And with time ticking off the clock for a new contender to get into the mix, a clarion call -- led by Bill Kristol -- went out for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to enter the race. Now, Christie's made his lack of interest abundantly clear, but this week, he was set to deliver a speech at one of the GOP's holy sites -- the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif. And in that space, Chris Christie stood before his fellow Republicans and boldly declared -- well, he basically directed them to watch a video of him saying "no" to running for President over and over again.
Christie said other stuff, too, we bet, but it didn't matter. The media was dead set on the Christie candidacy story, and they went about the business of squinting their eyes and shaking their head and trying discern the hidden message that signaled Christie was actually trying to communicate intentions that contradicted what he was actually, literally saying. It got pretty exciting!
Soon, other people who are not running for President, like Sarah Palin (who created a tesseract of irony in deep space by referring to "Herb [sic] Cain" as the "flavor of the week") and Rudy Giuliani, stepped forward to claim some of that sweet, sweet, media attention for themselves. By the end of the week, we even had to endure a few minutes of speculation that Mike Huckabee was going to get back into a race he never really joined in the first place.
Smash cut back to Florida, Friday morning: the Florida GOP decided that their presidential primary would take place on January 31, leapfrogging the early primary states and their scheduled February dates. All four of those states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada -- instantaneously made it clear that they'd be moving to even earlier dates. December 2011 was on the table. This raised a question: if you're eliminated from the 2012 race in 2011, were you ever a member of the 2012 race at all? More important, it caused a problem -- by shaving a month off of the pre-primary campaign, it made it much less likely that a newcomer would join the field. And it made life much, much harder for anyone not on, or near, the top tier.
So if you're Romney, you're not sweating how slowly the elites are warming to you. With each passing week, they're coming around. In the meantime, it needs to be said: For all of Romney's storied flaws -- he's the awkward robot-candidate running the flip-flop subroutine, remember? -- his campaign strategy is the best thing going. When he's around his fellow competitors, he makes a point of showing them that he's got them in his rear view mirror. Then, when they exert themselves to get his attention or raise his pulse -- as Rick Perry has striven to do -- Romney just breezily dismisses them. "Nice try," he said, over and over again, to a tiring Perry. And that's all that he's needed to say! We deserve to catch some hell for this comparison, but Romney's sort of co-opted some of that "Jay-Z" attitude from President Obama. "Got some dirt on my shoulder, Rick Perry. Could you brush it off for me?"
Elsewhere in the 2012 race, Newt Gingrich gets testy with reporters, Ron Paul's getting air support -- literal air support, Barack Obama has reason to love geography, Herman Cain wrote a book FROM THE FUTURE and Michele Bachmann knows what's going on with the lasers. For all of this, and much more, please enter the Speculatron for the week of September 30, 2011.