The latest round of polling from Public Policy Polling, attempting to figure out what voters today might do in 2012, has bad news for the roster of presumed GOP candidates.
That is, if you consider it to be "bad news" if you're trailing Obama by three to five points in a nationwide head-to-head in February 2011, while there are still months and months or potentially bad economic headwinds to live through between now and Election Day. Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney find themselves in that position, which, I assure you, they are not sweating. Other potential candidates fare less well, ranging from Newt Gingrich, who trails by seven points, to Ron Paul, who trails by fourteen.
But one opponent is doing great against Obama: Imaginary Generic Moderate Republican Candidate!
While none of those candidates would win against Obama in the poll, respondents preferred a "moderate Republican candidate" to the President by a 46% to 44% split. Even a generic Republican candidate tied Obama at 47%. That suggests that, while voters prefer Obama to the current GOP challengers, it's not necessarily because they're keen vote for Obama: rather, it seems that they haven't found a Republican they like better.
What is this knowledge going to reveal about political realities, for you and me? A hot sack of sweet nothing, that's what! But what polling like this will do is help to extend a whole lot of stories about how the GOP field is weak and that there's still room for a Candidate To Be Named Later. Whatever "weakness" exists in the current field is irrelevant at this point -- this weak field starts looking a lot more viable if the economy doesn't improve.
And as to the fortunes of Imaginary Generic Moderate Republican Candidate, here's the reality. As soon as he/she is no longer "imaginary," he/she loses his/her luster. As soon as he/she starts taking positions, he/she is no longer "generic." And as soon as he/she is revealed to be a "moderate," the GOP primary voters will set themselves to the task of digging his/her eyes out, with spoons.
So, enjoy your frontrunner status while you can, Candidate Who Does Not Exist!