The perennial story of the race for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination has been and may always be that GOP elites are not happy with the choices they've been given. Like the periodic flare-up of a particulary itchy rash, a new clutch of headlines attesting to this fact has popped up every fortnight from the late spring up until this week, when The Hill's Molly Hooper reminded us that "influential conservatives are clearly expressing their dissatisfaction" with the current slate of candidates.
The only variation on the dissatisfaction theme now is the fact that the race has seemingly crystallized into a two-man show between Mitt Romney -- who GOP elites find to be a mealymouthed, inconstant conservative they can't quite trust -- and Newt Gingrich -- who they hold to be gaseous, grandiose, and divisive. (It's actually fairer at this point to consider this a three-man race with Ron Paul in the mix, but Paul is the candidate that establishment GOP types typically try to wish out of existence.) George Will summed up the current thinking again this week in a column that cast a pox on the houses of Romney and Gingrich, in which he decried the former a "conservative of convenience," the latter the embodiment of "the vanity and rapacity that make modern Washington repulsive," before declaring both to be "too risky to anoint today."
So, what's to be done about this, in December of 2011, a few weeks shy of the Iowa Caucuses? Well, there's something of a "let's take one long last look at Jon Huntsman" movement happening in the background, which Huntsman both welcomes and is trying to accommodate by being less like himself. But apparently something much more desperate is afoot among the GOP elites -- a Hail Mary move in which they go into a smoke-filled room and conjure a candidacy out of thin air. RedState's Erick Erickson pulls the relevant passage from the Wall Street Journal's "Political Diary" newsletter:
Efforts are underway by some wealthy Republican donors and a group of conservative leaders to investigate whether a new Republican candidate could still get into the presidential race. The talk is still preliminary and somewhat wishful, but it reflects dissatisfaction with the two leading candidates, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.
Conservative leaders are looking into whether it is feasible for a dark horse to get on the ballot in select states. The deadline to qualifying for the ballot has passed in Florida, South Carolina, Missouri, and New Hampshire. But a candidate could still get on the ballot in states like Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Michigan and Texas. At the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, voters write in their choice, so there is no formal filing deadline.
As the above suggests, the prospect of bypassing most of the early primary contests (save Iowa, though the challenge there would be creating a campaign infrastructure from scratch to run a ground game) in the hopes that later contests provide buoyancy to a last-second entrant is a pretty tall order. A yawning, three-week gap in the primary schedule in February perhaps provides some hope that an insurgent candidacy can stage some sort of game-changing spectacle between the hallowed early states' contests and Super Tuesday in March. But even if such a spectacle could be mounted, would the media cover it? As John Ellis noted in a February piece for Business Insider, the media tends to "blow through their pre-primary budgets quickly, overspend on early caucus and primary coverage, and then cut back sharply to conserve funds for convention and general election coverage." Ellis continues:
The net result is that the early state caucuses and primaries are disproportionately important to determining the eventual nominee and that anyone who does not finish first or second in the Iowa caucuses and/or the New Hampshire primary is probably not going to command media coverage thereafter.
So, this has all the makings of a fool's errand. What fool might be up for it? Let's go back to that WSJ piece:
The chatter about potential new entrants include former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, businessman Donald Trump, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint.
So, you have an unpopular 2008 retread (Giuliani), two guys who have emphatically opted-out on a run numerous times already this year (Ryan and Daniels), a guy who might make a better Rick Perry than Perry has proven to be (DeMint -- who's also emphatically opted out of a 2012 run several times), and a reality-teevee birther charlatan (Trump), who's in the news because of the joke-debate he'll be moderating two days after Christmas. (Erickson also suggests that Jeb Bush is in the mix for this project, which he dismisses overall as "wishful thinking.")
What, no one thought to call George Pataki?
Who will step forward and fund this desperate bid? How do you bridge the gap between an establishment seeking purity and a base that craves authenticity? And how does this new candidate introduce himself to the voters -- "Hi! I'm here because I think the rest of these guys really suck. Who's with me?"
These are all some of the questions that will need to be answered should this effort actually get off the ground. Which it totally won't, by the way.
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