Until now it has been an accepted tenet of campaigning that those in office with ongoing obligations and a list of votes are at a disadvantage against candidates who can take “principled” positions above the fray. That’s not true in this 2012 Republican primary.
You only need look back on the past couple of weeks to see that Congress and the budget fights are where the action is; no one but story-starved journalists willing to suspend disbelief are following Gov. Haley Barbour around New Hampshire or watching Donald Trump’s poll numbers. (Hint: It’s all about name recognition right now).
Rather the action, the personalities and the matchups are all inside the Beltway. But none of the announced candidates are current federal office holders. Well, that’s my point. As a result the announced and soon-to-announce candidates look out of touch and vaguely foolish chiming in from time to time. Tim Pawlenty prays Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling (ever? without spending controls?). Mitt Romney says he never would have extended the Bush tax cut for two years. And so on. And meanwhile, the heavy lifters in Congress are getting spending cuts, standing up to the president and casting hard votes.
It’s early in the race still (Bill Clinton announced in October 1991) and maybe new candidates will join or the existing ones will warm up a bit. But for now the 2012 field looks irrelevant, if not a tad comical.