“There’s no one to pick from,” one man was saying to another. That was the telling comment my neighbor overheard at the pet hospital about the 2012 Republican presidential contest.
Apparently the first man had said he had voted for President Obama in 2008 and wasn’t fully happy with him. Then he added, “I’d vote for someone else, but ...”
His fellow pet owner finished his sentence, “... there’s no one to pick from.” That sums up neatly the Republican dilemma at this early stage of the season. Even with eight announced and unannounced candidates in the race for president, none of them seem to impress the party’s faithful right now.
From my vintage point, the Republicans appear to be looking for a savior, but those of those leaders who could excite or connect with the base are lining up in droves and saying, “Not me.” On April 26 — just a month ago — a Fox News commentator and a reality-show host — were leading the polls (24 percent each) to be the Republican nominee.
However, by mid-May, both Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump had dropped out. Not to mention those candidates who had preceded them, such as Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who left saying he just didn’t have the “fire in the belly” it takes to run.
There was also Rep. Mike Pence, a Republican congressional leader, who shunned calls to run for president to run for governor instead.
Reuters this week quoted Republican strategist Ford O’Connell on the Republican race: “You are seeing a lot of discontented Republicans want a choice, and there are some prominent holes in the field.”
O’Connell said “the race lacked a credible social conservative and a Southern conservative with executive experience (in seeking) a candidate who can bridge the gap between the party establishment and conservative activists.”
The hope of many Republican strategists and what is left o the establishment, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, dropped out this week citing family concerns. Indeed, that is a legitimate reason to stay away from the harsh scrutiny that follows presidential campaigns. Trust me, I know from my own experience of just managing one of them a few years ago.
Even the tough-talking Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey dropped out, without ever announcing. But Christie knew all eyes would be on him, so he just passed.
So, what are we left with? Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Herman Cain, co-founder of Godfather’s Pizza, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and a few others, including Newt Gingrich.
Gingrich, who had a tough roll out, is still attempting to recover from last week’s public hari-kari. Gingrich kicked off his campaign with an attack on Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to gut, burn, embalm and bury Medicare.
As I have written before, if you buck the Ryan Budget, the new Republican Orthodoxy, as far as conservatives are concerned, you’ve committed political suicide. More on this topic in the future because it is part of a developing plot amongst potential GOP candidates running in 2012.
This brings us to what’s next or who do Democrats most fear or anticipate? Two of the most widely covered or talked about candidates for the Republican nomination haven’t declared yet, but people are still talking about them. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin are polar opposites in both style and temperament.
Bush is highly unlikely to run, but he will have to explain to us why this is not his time. On the other hand, Sarah Palin did take another step closer to announcing — something.
Palin dusted off Gov. Barbour’s “fire in the belly” phrase and used it, saying she has it. Sure she has it. More of it than anyone else. You betcha! We’ll see.
And don’t forget, we still might hear from Rep. Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota. She is one of the founders of the House Tea Party Caucus. Her emergence into the field might dim the lights of Tim Pawlenty.
Pawlenty, a former two-term (2003-2011) governor of Minnesota is running much like former President Jimmy Carter. He’s on a truth tour. After supporting so many issues like cap and trade that made him seem moderate or sensible, Pawlenty is now disavowing his former positions — much like Romney and every other politician. Trust me, Democrats do it as well when they start to run.
Admitting to being stupid is the new way for a politician to dump a principle he’s held for years. Appearing on Laura Ingram’s radio show, where Republican candidates go these days to confess, Pawlenty said, “I’ve just come out and admitted and said, ‘Look, it was a mistake. It was stupid. I’m not going to try to defend it.’”
I haven’t mentioned Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah and President Obama’s ambassador to China. He has not declared, but it is shaping up to becoming another uphill struggle in this soon to start Republican presidential season.
For now, the race is wide open. Stay tuned.
• Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR, and a contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill.