I swear to God -- I sat down to write an analytical, keenly insightful post examining both the overt and more nuanced message elements used by the Republican presidential candidates in their last debate. "Remember," I tell my graduate students in political and policy communication, "we're not here to talk about which candidates or officials or political parties we like or agree with. We're here as communication scholars to determine which messages are effective, which aren't, and why."
But, c'mon! Did you see that last assembly of great conservative minds? These people make the seven dwarfs look like a MENSA steering committee. Actually, the process has boiled down to Mitt and the seven not-Mitts. But it's also taken on some of the dynamics of a shooting gallery. Every time somebody pops up as a viable, "true conservative" not-Mitt Romney, the real world takes aim and they get shot full of holes.
Michele Bachmann was the golden child for about an hour and a half. Then the public saw what her colleagues in Congress have known for years: she only occasionally orbits earth. She continues to make the most gape-jawed inane statements, but usually gets credit because she so fervently believes what she's saying. There's a good reason her eyes frequently look unfocused.
Rick Perry was the savior for a few minutes. Then America found out why he's been known in Texas for years as Governor Good Hair. He was never the sharpest knife in the drawer and the blade hasn't gotten any sharper. He looks great, and he'll howdy the heck out of you, but deep down inside, he's very shallow. The last debate revealed that he's pretty much a one-trick pony, and it's not a new trick. "Let my friends drill more oil and it'll fix everything." Perry's problem now is that once the public starts laughing at you it's very difficult to be taken seriously again.
Ron Paul continues to attract support from a corps of true believers. He's really a nice man, very smart, absolutely sincere, and he has never wavered in his libertarian beliefs, which are somewhere to the right of Ethelred the Unready. But, he scared the hell out of a lot of people when they heard him characterize dying from curable diseases and starving to death from poverty as rights enshrined in the Constitution. More than a few more practical conservatives whispered, "uh oh."
Herman Cain is the latest not-Romney to emerge from the pack. He's been there all along, but after others crashed and burned and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie retained his sanity and his office, Cain and his "9-9-9" tax plan suddenly seemed more appealing. Unfortunately, it turns out that 9-9-9 may not be quite the cure for the nation's fiscal mess that Mr. Cain would like us to believe. It's sure catchy. But even cursory examination finds that it simply shifts most of the country's operating costs to middle and lower income taxpayers. It was apparently crafted and dynamically scored by an investment adviser named Rich Lowrie, who works in a local Wells Fargo Bank in Pepper Pike, Ohio.
Nobody has really figured out what Jon Huntsman is running for; Vice President in 2012, President in 2016? He's smart, articulate, has an impressive resume and great presidential hair. But he keeps trying to convince us that Utah leads the nation in practically everything, and I'm just not buying it. He has all the qualifications, but nobody pays any attention to him. His problem is that in the places he's trolling for votes, the Real World Caucus is very, very small.
Rick Santorum seems like a nice enough guy. He's not, but he seems like he is. The former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania wants the federal government to stay completely out of your lives -- except for legislating abortion, issues of sexual orientation and teaching your kids Intelligent design in school. In 2006, Santorum lost re-election to his Senate seat to Bob Casey by 18%. Think the folks in Pennsylvania were on to something?
And then, there's Newt Gingrich. There's always Newt Gingrich. As has been pointed out many times, it's slightly ironic that a person who poses as a strong moral leader is, in fact, a serial philanderer, who was in the midst of philandering while leading the prosecution of Bill Clinton for philandering. Not to mention that he was the only speaker of the house in American history to have been disciplined for ethics violations. Newt is reminiscent of the fellow who was so mean even his friends didn't like him. But his talent for hyperbole is unmatched -- perhaps the most incredible penchant to overstate things since the beginning of time.
In view of the competition, it's no wonder Mitt Romney spends a lot of time in debates fighting back a smirk. But there is one real possibility that could run up the numbers on his Grecian Formula: Sarah Palin.
We need to pay close attention because Sarah Palin never said she wouldn't run for president. She said, "After much prayer and serious consideration, I have decided that I will not be seeking the 2012 GOP nomination for president of the United States."
So, if Mitt wins the Republican nomination and the GOP's right wing faces the prospect of supporting a "moderate" candidate, what are the chances that Madam Palin would hear the call and announce her candidacy for President of the United States on the Tea Party ticket?