A recent Gallup poll shows some of the party's committed culture warriors, Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn), Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and former Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum with the highest "Positive Intensity Scores," a measurement based on "the difference between strongly favorable and strongly unfavorable opinions among those who are familiar with him or her." Basically this tells you how much GOP primary voters actually like the candidates they might be choosing from.
George Will recently wrote an admirable column dissing Huckabee and Gingrich for latching onto the Obama "Kenyan anti-Colonialism" thing, but in it he also identified the only "five plausible Republican presidents on the horizon - Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Utah governor and departing ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, former Massachusetts governor Romney and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty."
Note that none of Will's more policy-oriented picks even cracked the top five candidates in Gallup's measurement of positive intensity scores, although Romney and Pawlenty are close behind Santorum. This might explain why someone like Pawlenty, who Matt Yglesias recently noted, once had a more moderate reputation as a “Sam’s Club Republican,” would be going out of his way to say he'd support the reinstitution of the military's don't ask, don't tell policy.
Liberals have mocked Romney for spending the last two years downplaying his accomplishments as governor of Massachussetts while engaging in constant culture war, but as Greg noted this morning, a new Washington Post/ABC poll shows Romney’s standing among Republicans has actually improved. Will’s more plausible presidents have to make themselves more like Huckabee or Bachmann to give themselves a better chance of winning the nomination — although Palin’s diminished showing in the Post/ABC poll suggests you can actually go too far.
As my colleague Jamelle Bouie is fond of saying, parties matter more than candidates’ personal qualities. Will complained that the GOP nomination process was "cluttered with careless, delusional, egomaniacal, spotlight-chasing candidates," but that actually says more about who the GOP is right now than it does about the candidates themselves.