TheDC Analysis: Inaugural GOP presidential nomination rankings

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer
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With the November midterm elections having just recently taken place, it is hard to believe the first Republican presidential primary debate is just months away. Daily Caller contributor and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain became the first Republican candidate to formally launch a presidential exploratory committee last week. More will surely follow.

Below is my first ranking of the top 10 possible candidates, ranked by their current strength to win the nomination should they run. This will undoubtedly alter significantly as we move through the primary season and my rankings will be periodically updated to reflect the changing environment.

But without further ado, the current rankings:

1. Chris Christie, “The Dream” – Chris Christie insists he isn’t going to run, but no one excites the conservative base as much as the tough-talking, union-bashing governor of New Jersey who isn’t afraid to throw his ample weight around to get things done. Christie has surely seen the recent Zogby poll that shows him not only at the top of the heap among Republicans if he decides to make a run, but the only potential 2012 contender that currently leads Obama in a hypothetical match-up. Christie has also certainly learned the Obama lesson – strike while the iron is hot. There are still a lot of “known unknowns” with Christie, however, which could potentially cause his blubber to burst if he enters the race. Where does he stand on foreign policy? How about social issues? A salivating party wants to know.

2. Mitt Romney, “Mr. Manufactured” – The former Massachusetts governor is still the leading pick of Republican insiders, according to the latest Hotline survey – though Mitch Daniels is gaining on him. But Romney has a potentially fatal flaw: health care. The 2010 midterm rage was driven in large part by Obamacare. But before there was Obamacare, there was Romneycare. Romney has not done a good enough job explaining this away – the federalism argument doesn’t cut it – and if he is unable to, his candidacy may very well be doomed. Which, in some respects, is a shame since a businessman renowned for turning around companies might fare well in 2012 if the economy hasn’t fully recovered.

3. Sarah Palin, “The Superstar” – Despite shirking her duties in Alaska, you can’t deny that Sarah Palin is the biggest personality in Republican politics. She can draw a crowd probably as large as each of the other GOP presidential contenders combined – and then some. For that reason alone, she can’t be discounted as a serious contender for the GOP nomination if she decides to run, especially since she has the potential to do extremely well in Iowa and South Carolina, two of the earliest and most important primary states. As for her potential to actually win a general election, well, that’s another story altogether.

4. Mitch Daniels, “Mr. Competent” – The rap on the Indiana governor is that he is boring. But it seems like establishment-types are slowly getting behind him, and some of the brightest minds in conservative punditry have sung his praises. Even the New York Times reported how well he has done to right Indiana’s fiscal situation. If America’s budget problems have not been addressed a year from now, the GOP and ultimately America may just be ready for, in the words of conservative columnist George Will,  a “a short, balding, unimpressive, uncharismatic competent governor” at the helm.

5. Mike Huckabee, “The Talker” – People have underestimated the former Arkansas governor before and it is possible I am doing so again. He has done well in a lot of recent polling, including leading a recent poll of Iowa Republicans (Christie was not included in the poll). Remember, Huck came out of nowhere to win the Iowa Caucuses in 2008.

6. John Thune, “The Unknown” – He looks the part, but can he play it? The tall, presidential-looking South Dakota senator isn’t exactly the most famous name in the Senate, but he holds solid conservative views and would likely appeal to a cross spectrum of Republican primary voters. He also comes across as likeable, without looking like a pushover (see Pawlenty, Tim). As the field narrows and if some of the other more talked about candidates fail to overcome their liabilities, the party may turn to someone like Thune. In short, Thune could be the real deal.

7. Newt Gingrich, “Back to the Future” – Note to GOP challengers in 2012: Underestimate Gingrich at your own peril. Both a policy wonk and one of the savviest politicians in the business, the former House Speaker will certainly enter the Republican primary  with a well-thought out plan for victory — if he does indeed run. Of course, he carries a lot of baggage that will be difficult for even him to overcome.

8. Tim Pawlenty, “Mr. Nice Guy” – Pawlenty is almost certainly running for president. In his favor, the two time Minnesota Governor  received an “A” rating from the Cato Institute for his fiscally conservative governance. The Weekly Standard recently claimed he  “has better chance then you think.” But I don’t buy it – not yet, at least. Call me skeptical — very skeptical — that T-Paw has what it takes.

9. Mike Pence, “The Purist” – Besides being a great speaker, supporters of the Indiana congressman suggest he appeals to the foreign policy, fiscal, and social conservative wings of the Republican Party. Some believe he has the potential to be a dark-horse success story and it looks like he is poised to run, but he also has the option of opting to run for governor of Indiana instead.

10. (Tie)  John Bolton, “The Wrecking Ball” – I am a bit biased with this one as I broke the story that he was considering a run for the White House. But Bolton has the potential to pick up steam as a debate candidate if he enters the presidential race, making sure the 2012 contenders don’t forget about foreign policy issues. He is certainly a popular figure with his constant appearances on Fox News. And oh what fun it would be if Bolton and Ron Paul – whose foreign policy vision couldn’t be more different than Bolton’s – mixed it up in a few debates.

10. (Tie) Donald Trump, “The Donald” – Oh my. It would be a gift to journalism if Trump entered the race. The brash businessman would make the already eccentric cast of potential Republican contenders all the more, well, spectacular. But is he serious or is this just another publicity scheme? He is, afterall, the undisputed master of publicity schemes. While it is doubtful he has a particularly good shot of winning the GOP nomination if he runs, he may be able to catch on as the straight talking businessman who only wants to set America right.

The Rest

Haley Barbour, “The Insider” – The consummate insider, the Mississippi governor is a former RNC chairman and former mega-lobbyist. Mega-lobbyists aren’t, however, exactly popular in the current political environment. Barbour could very well crack the top 10 in future rankings.

Herman Cain, “The Outsider” – Cain seems like a smart, nice guy. He is also a frequent contributor to The Daily Caller. While he has the potential to pick up some support from Tea Party-types, I think it is fair to say that the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO is just a bit of a long-shot.

Bobby Jindal, “The Boy Wonder” – The fact that he plans to run for re-election as governor in Louisiana makes it virtually impossible for him to run for president, considering primary season begins just months after the governor’s election. If there was more of a chance he would run, he would certainly be up with the top contenders. Regardless, not even 40 yet, Jindal will be a serious contender for many years to come and even one of the better vice-president possibilities this time around.

Gary Johnson, “The Joker and the Toker” – Saying you would consider cutting the defense budget by as much as 90% knocks you out of consideration. Saying that you would cut the defense budget by as much as 90% and that you favor humanitarian interventions makes you a clown. While there are some things to like about the former New Mexico governor, you might say he is not be ready for primetime.

Ron Paul, “The Aging Revolutionary” – If the Texas congressman ran, won the GOP primary and then won the presidential election – two of those are absolutely inconceivable – he would be the oldest first-term president in American history. Unfortunately for Paul, his age is the least of his problems. It is hard to see how the GOP electorate would elect a leader with his isolationist tendencies. Much of his base of support is also drawn from the loony bin.

Rick Perry, “Texas Strong” – Taking the job as chairman of the Republican Governors’ Association makes me believe that the Texas governor is serious about not running for president.

Rick Santorum, “The Social Conservative” – Might be better for Santorum to look at challenging Bob Casey for Senate again in Pennsylvania. Though if he decides to run, it isn’t inconceivable that the former Pennsylvania senator could do better than expected in Iowa.