The 2012 GOP nomination — to boldly go where no man (or woman) has gone before

Tradition means a lot in the Republican Party, and when it comes to presidential nominees, few traditions are more entrenched than that of nominating “the next guy.” For decades, the party and its primary voters regularly selected the veteran candidate in the field. Running for president as a Republican meant waiting your turn and the party regularly turned to candidates who had previously run, but come up short, as its standard bearer. Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, and John McCain were all former primary losers who eventually became the party’s nominee. Given this tradition, conventional wisdom says former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee are best positioned for a 2012 run. If, however, 2010 taught us anything, it’s that there is nothing traditional about today’s Republican primary process.

Republican primary voters were in no mood to play by the rules last year. Insurgent candidates regularly knocked off heavily favored, establishment opponents in GOP primaries across the country. Candidates from coast to coast rode this anti-establishment wave — from Joe Miller in Alaska, to Marco Rubio in Florida, to Christine O’Donnell in Delaware to Mike Lee in Utah. The grassroots uprising by Republican primary voters — fueled by the Tea Party movement — created an environment where the traditional rules about who could win and how to win in a Republican primary no longer applied. In this new political bizarro world, conventional political assets were now poisonous political liabilities. Unless this political climate changes dramatically in the next few months, we should expect a 2012 nomination fight unlike any we have seen before.

This new political order — or maybe it’s better described as a new political disorder — creates a new lens through which we must view the 2012 candidates. As with every change, there are winners and losers.


Sarah Palin

By many traditional standards, a Palin candidacy is doomed from the start. A potential Palin run is savaged by the GOP’s elites, and thanks to the constant and unfair attacks by the mainstream media, Palin’s negatives are some of the highest of the 2012 hopefuls. Fortunately for Governor Palin, and for her cadre of supporters, the old rules don’t apply. The current environment favors candidates like Palin who refuse to play by the rules, who thumb their noses at the establishment and who consistently challenge conventional wisdom. Further, Palin, who is viewed as the public face of the Tea Party, enjoys a popularity and credibility among conservative activists that is unparalleled.

Herman Cain

If Governor Palin is the public face of the Tea Party movement, then Herman Cain is the movement’s soul. Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, who has never held elected office and who is largely unknown to most of the American electorate, is a rock star on the Tea Party circuit. Like many of the successful insurgent campaigns of 2010, the Cain campaign can draw on a deep well of support among conservative bloggers, talk radio hosts and new media opinion leaders. Those who dismiss Cain as this cycle’s Morry Taylor do so at their own peril. Cain could surprise many at the Ames Straw Poll in August.

Donald Trump

The mainstream media doubts Trump is actually running, in part because they are working off the old playbook. Trump would certainly be an unconventional candidate — fortunately, these are unconventional times. Trump’s larger-than-life persona and his populist message could excite party activists in a big way; and his ample personal wealth could allow him to outspend the rest of the field. Trump is the ultimate outsider, a self-made man who can not only talk the talk about shaking up Washington, he can walk the walk. The mainstream media thinks the Trump talk is just about publicity for Trump, but that doesn’t even make sense. Trump is a guy with 100% name recognition and a man who generates press just by walking out the door in the morning. Trump is serious and in this environment he should be taken seriously.

  • Jefffugazi

    The media is making it so obvious that they attempt to lead the people toward certain candidates.  Ron Paul is being ingnored and shouldn’t be. 

  • Johngalt

    Why so little mention of Ron Paul? Is he being avoided for a reason?

  • partymanrandy

    I disagree a bit about the tea-party effect. The “tea-party candidates” that were successful in 2010 were those like Marco Rubio, who is really an establishment guy – just a small government establishment guy. He’s a protege of Jeb Bush and is a pretty mainstream, small government Republican. The eccentric candidates like Angle and O’Donnell didn’t do too well, at least in broader state-wide senate races.

    The tea party will definitely have an impact. I think it will be enough to derail Romney, due to Romneycare. But I don’t think it will be enough to give Palin, Cain, or Trump a chance. I think the most likely nominee will fit the Rubio mold. Someone that has a strong small government background but is still palatable for the mainstream. If Christie ran, he would be our next President, but he seems serious about not running. I think Daniels, Pawlenty, and Huckabee (his record isn’t very small government, but his rhetoric is, and he doesn’t have any unavoidable issues like Romneycare) have the best chances.

  • krjohnson

    I don’t think the tea party environment hurts Pawlenty at all. Everything that the author could cite was just tactics. His substance is right in line with the tea party. Indeed, he came in second place in the Tea Party Patriots convention straw poll.

    I would also take exception to calling Herman Cain the “soul” of the tea party. He doesn’t even have a large enough name recognition to achieve that distinction. I think it’s been pretty well established that Ron Paul would be the person best described as the tea party’s “soul.” Even Lawrence O’Donnell calls him the “spiritual godfather of the tea party movement.” And, since I’m feeling bold, I would call his son Rand the brain of the tea party (at least with regards to policy, politically it’s a whole other story).

  • richgrise

    Personally, I wouldn’t vote for Sarah Palin, who has been a bad joke from the get-go – I’d rather vote for Tina Fey, or that arrogant butthead Trump; I’d
    rather vote for Punxsutawney Phil.

    • d wayne

      And maybe an overfed rodent would best represent YOU in Washington.

  • richgrise
  • paulhb2

    I don’t disagree. However, Obama can (will?) win against any of the candidates mentioned except Palin–BUT she has to begin speaking effectively in an “unscripted” way. So far, she hasn’t accomplished that.
    Unfortunately,it’s unlikely that Scott Walker or Chris Cristie will be nominated.

    • d wayne

      I agree with you, Palin really does need to cut back on the folksy crap and start going for the jugular. I personally thought she handed joe biden his head in their debate. I know, easy competition.
      I get the impression that even O’reily is getting tired of her shtick. She was originally elected governor BECAUSE of her straight talk.

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  • Tess_Comments

    The GOP Candidates for 2012 need to remember to run against Obama.
    When the GOP candidates meet up with each other they will need to stick to the facts and be civil to each other. GOP Candidate should not go againt GOP Candidate with negative rhetoric. All the GOP Candidates need to stay positive. Any GOP Candidates thinking of running should look at their chances before they put in their hat. Too Many GOP candidates will only help the Democrats. All GOP Members need to back-up each other.