Where are the Republican heavyweights?
Does the 2012 Republican primary field feel a little...thin to anyone else?
In 2008, Republicans fielded five candidates who looked, at various points in the process, like plausible nominees and even plausible presidents: Mitt Romney, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, and Mike Huckabee.
In 2012, they’re fielding two-and-a-half plausible nominees/presidents: Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman. You could make a case, I guess, for Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, but both of their candidacies have come off as vanity efforts from day one. Neither has much of a constituency, a fundraising machine, or a reason for being in the race. Tim Pawlenty would have fit the bill, but he dropped out early. Huntsman is superficially plausible, but his campaign always looked more like a protest against the modern GOP than a serious effort. And Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Ron Paul and Gary Johnson are fringe candidates — and yes, I know Cain is enjoying a temporary bump in the polls.
You would expect the reverse: In 2008, the Republican Party was nominating a sacrificial lamb to follow the incredibly unpopular George W. Bush. It was, for the GOP, a very tough election. Good candidates should have wanted nothing to do with it. And yet it was a pretty strong field. This year, they’re running against a struggling incumbent amidst 9 percent unemployment. It’s a very plausible election for the GOP. And yet it’s a very weak field that’s tilted towards extreme candidates. Why have so many GOP heavyweights — think Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie, to name just a few — sat this one out?
Perhaps they looked at the rightward tilt and the power of the Tea Party and decided to take a pass. But if so, that was a miscalculation. Romney is no Tea Party-darling, but he’s doing fine. And Ryan, Christie and Jindal, at least, were perfectly well-liked by the Tea Party. Perhaps more Republicans would have run if Obama had looked this weak eight months ago. But Obama’s numbers have been sinking for awhile now. Entering the race late makes it tougher to win, but it doesn’t make it impossible. And it’s hard to believe that Romney had such an imposing head start that he scared off a larger field. His dominance has come as a surprise to everyone.
So help me out. What’s the answer here?