Running for president: it used to be cool, something young kids and starry-eyed dreamers actually aspired to do. And understandably so. To be the leader of the free world, man! Whether you want to max out your ambition, boldly strive to change the world, or just succumb to the indulgences of power, the Oval Office is one of the ultimate highs.
Yet 2012 is shaping up to be the year where the people who are held in the highest esteem are those who aren't choosing to run for president, while the candidates themselves are kicked at, like the last remaining shoes at a DSW clearance sale. Sometimes, it seems like the GOP elites have barely spent any time at all with the raft of candidates they actually have on offer. Over the past year, they've hoped for Jeb Bush, stared dreamily at Marco Rubio, mourned the opt-out decision of Mitch Daniels, and coveted the candidacy of Paul Ryan. And as they've swooned, the media has followed, because if nothing else, they know the value in the Shiny Thing, and, as NYU's professor of journalism Jay Rosen might point out, they know that fueling the speculative fires of these wanted-but-not-obtained campaigns makes them look savvy. There's nothing a decadent intelligentsia loves more than to try to spin substance out of non-thought.
This all reached an apotheosis this week, as the Last Great Hope of the Underserved Elites, Chris Christie -- after making it firm all year that he wasn't going to run -- finally succeeded in making this clear just as hard as he could. He staged a press conference, to tell the world that he was going to go on not doing the thing he'd said all along he had no intention of doing in the first place. And he went on to tell this to the world again and again and again and again. After about 20 minutes of Christie answering what amounted to the same question over and over, the event was no longer a press conference -- it was a screensaver. And MSNBC stuck with it for another 30 minutes! Here's hoping everyone at 30 Rock got to take a long lunch.
Meanwhile, at the top-tier of the primary pile, life is getting weird. Take Herman Cain, for example. Weeks ago, it looked like his quick rise had given itself over to a slow fade. But with a couple strokes of good fortune, matched by his rivals hitting some unexpected shoals, Cain surged back -- jumping to second place in some national polls. This is his big moment. This is his time to shine! And what's he doing? Well, he's quitting the campaign trail to go on a book tour. It's utterly inexplicable! Unless, of course, you figure that he understands what's going on: like Christie and Daniels and all the people who are fawned over, he's better off not becoming president. He's better off maximizing the lucrative opportunities that being in the 2012 mix provides. And that book? Well, it ends with Cain becoming president. So, in his mind, he's already achieved his goal. Doing anything more to achieve it is pointless!
And then there's Rick Perry. He was supposed to be the down-home, straight-speaking, gun-toting solution to all of that fussy talk of "compassionate conservatism." His big advantage was a long Texas career and a desire to be nothing more than a vessel -- into which Tea Party resentment, and corporate crony cash, could be poured, stirred, and steeped in a unite-the-base brew. It was all going according to plan until people discovered that the man had actual convictions -- actual beliefs that weren't tied to party dogma. He thought teenage girls in Texas should be shielded from cancer. He thought that not giving the children of undocumented immigrants an education and a chance at a life was heartless. And Perry's luster began to fade the very minute it became apparent that he actually believed things.
Finally, Mitt Romney. The best thing he's got going for him is that his campaign has cagily positioned him as the 2012 Default Setting. Folks might not like Mitt Romney, or want Mitt Romney, but it's slowly dawning on the elites that they might be stuck with him anyway. Romney's fall from esteem has been especially noteworthy. Four years ago, a sizable portion of the GOP loved the fact that he could attract Democratic voters because he had a health care reform plan that could be a model for the entire nation. Today, a sizable portion of the GOP is deeply aggrieved by the fact that Romney's positions are still comparatively attractive to Democrats, and that his health care reform actually ended up becoming the model for the entire nation.
Earlier on Friday, as Fox News' Chris Wallace came on the air to briefly talk up his Sunday morning guests, he described the state of the field in these terms: "It looks like we've got to go to war with the field we've got." Note the use of the first person plural, by all means, but let's acknowledge the air of resignation. Wallace clearly points to the sidelines for the people with whom he'd rather "go to war." That's where all the people who've earned admiration and respect are standing, and they're sitting this one out. (Also Sarah Palin is there, but her announcement was met with a shrug and quick step to more important news.) It's never been more uncool to want to be president. But in a world where it's not cool to be president, Mitt Romney may be just the guy the GOP is looking for.
Elsewhere on the trail: Ron Paul brings in an impressive haul of cash, while stepping slightly away from his libertarian roots. Rick Santorum sees a conspiracy in the way the primary calendar is shifting. Michele Bachmann is urging people not to "settle." Buddy Roemer makes his most daring move yet. And for some reason, we now know what Newt Gingrich's favorite movie is -- naturally, it's about marriage mishap! To learn more about this week in the 2012 campaign, we invite you to enter the Speculatron for the week of Oct. 7, 2012.