This morning, we were told that Jim DeMint is considering a run for president. A few hours later, we were told that he isn’t. So, no news here. But DeMint’s flirtation with a presidential run, however brief, does tell us something very important about the GOP presidential field: It’s a reminder that the field’s real weakness is on the far right.
Mainstream conservative Republicans have two perfectly plausible candidates to choose from. Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney both hold acceptable positions on the issues and have reasonable credentials as presidential candidates. Granted, Romney’s commitment to those issue positions isn’t exactly consistent with what he believed when he was campaigning for statewide office in Massachusetts, but still, two reasonable choices compares favorably to last time around, when mainstream conservatives had only Romney, who had just converted to conservatism, and Fred Thompson, who hardly ran at all.
Moderate conservatives, meanwhile, have a solid choice in Jon Huntsman. Libertarians have an embarrassment of riches: a former governor in Gary Johnson, and a long-time libertarian leader in Ron Paul.
But what about serious movement conservatives? Who can real, non-knuckle-dragging right wingers — which is where most of the energy in the party is these days — turn to?
Without DeMint, all they have as contenders is a long list of cranks and hopeless cases. I doubt if even the most conservative of conservative leaders really want to have Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain as the GOP nominee, let alone Ten Commandments Judge Roy Moore. They may be ideologically pure, but even conservative purists (who care more about ideological loyalty than winning in November) have no interest in being embarrassed by a nominee who says crazy things or doesn’t really know what he or she is talking about.
Jim DeMint, who actually is a conservative leader and doesn’t just play one on TV, would have been a plausible nominee. It’s not easy to see where a replacement might be found, and it does constitute a real weakness in the field.