The Post has put together a fun and useful presidential endorsements page and game this week, allowing us all to guess who will get what they consider the 50 key GOP endorsements in the 2012 race (and see Chris Cillizza’s guesses). So far, of the 50 that the Post selected, only eight have chosen, with Mitt Romney getting five elite endorsements and Rick Perry three. But as much fun as that is, 50 is a lot for most of us. Here’re my guesses for the Five Most Important Endorsements that the presidential candidates are seeking.
1. Jim DeMint. The South Carolina Senator has said he isn’t going to endorse, but he has real clout among movement conservatives and Tea Partiers, after recruiting several candidates during the 2010 election cycle and intervening in primaries across the nation. All that, and South Carolina too. Endorsed Romney in 2008. Note: first elected to the House in 1999, so he didn’t serve with Gingrich.
2. Nikki Haley. South Carolina has long been perhaps the most important primary state for Republicans, and it can’t hurt to have the governor on your side (although it’s not clear to me how much organizational clout she could bring). Brings Tea Party credibility, too. Romney has reportedly been working hard for this one.
3. Tom Coburn. He’s not on the Post’s list, but I’ll be watching this one. As one of the most sincere spending cutters in the GOP, he helps with Tea Partiers. And as a frequent Newt critic, he’s probably better situated than most to lead a party reconciliation with the former Speaker – or he can signal that conservatives can live with Romney, or that they should reconsider one of the others.
4. Mike Huckabee. Iowa and social conservatives? What more can you want? Especially since neither Iowans nor social conservatives are particularly comfortable with either Romney or Gingrich.
5. Jeb Bush. He’ll almost certainly endorse before his brother or his dad, and to the extent that there’s really a GOP “establishment,” here’s the big prize. What all five of these have in common is that either through the influence they have with others or by the way that they are likely to behave, or both, they’re not wild cards. Unlike, say, Sarah Palin or Rush Limbaugh, they aren’t likely to move alone.
They aren’t wild cards. My guess is that Newt wins few if any of the Post 50 or my 5, and that they wind up either drifting slowly to Romney (most likely) or back to Perry (still possible!). And along with them go money and other important campaign resources, which should be sufficient to clinch the nomination. But if Newt does start winning a solid share of these, then he’s a more plausible nominee than I have thought. If you want to know who is going to oppose Barack Obama, I’d recommend watching this batch.