Now that Rick Perry has started to fade in the polls, and both Chris Christie and Sarah Palin have bowed out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination, conservatives hoping for an alternative to frontrunner Mitt Romney have been forced to look elsewhere.
“I was sleeping on that bench over there when some tea partier woke me up and asked me if I’d ever thought of running for president,” said “Big Ben” Martin, a white-bearded vagrant who has spent the past three decades asking for change and complaining about Israeli “war crimes” on the corner of 10th Street and K Street in Washington, D.C. “I’d never thought of it but the more I look at the GOP field, the more I think that there might be an opening.”
On Wednesday, Romney advisor Ron Kaufman sought to downplay that possibility, claiming that Christie’s and Palin’s exits from the race marked the end of “waiting for Superman.” Romney now leads the GOP field with 22 percent support in Quinnipiac’s latest poll and big donors have started flocking to him since Christie’s exit, according to The Wall Street Journal. But the continued rise of potential rivals from Michele Bachmann to Perry and now Herman Cain seems to suggest that some Republicans are still candidate shopping.
Tea partier Terrance Smith, who spent Wednesday night huddled in a corner of his Arlington, Virginia home, turning a light on and off after Palin bowed out, summed up their frustration: “On paper, Romney’s the guy. He’s got business experience. He’s got executive experience. But to me he seems inauthentic, like he could turn on a dime. He doesn’t seem to be committed to the positions that he’s staking out.”
Martin’s candor seems to resonate with Smith and other conservatives tired of Romney’s “hedging.” “My platform is to figure out what day it is,” Martin said. “I’ve been consistent on that since 1979.”
“Go to Mitt Romney’s website,” said Mitch McWhorter, a D.C.-based conservative activist who tripped over Martin in Federal Plaza during a drunken stupor after Christie’s exit on Tuesday and convinced him to run for president. “One day, it’ll say October 1st; then, October 2nd; then, October 3rd. He keeps changing. Martin, on the other hand, never knows where he is. You can depend on that.”
Karen Milbanker, a Delaware resident and self-proclaimed “Paulbot” who supported tea partier Christine O’Donnell over moderate Mike Castle in Delaware’s 2010 U.S. Senate race, said that Martin has a leg up on Romney on foreign policy too. “That map of Israel that he props up next to him outside the White House is labeled wrong. It says ‘Israel’ on Iraq. So I’m not sure that he knows where Israel is. He’ll never have access to a map either. You have to be a member to use the public library. But that’s what I’m looking for — a president who’s not obsessed with Israel.”
Martin thinks that he can win the nomination, even with just three months to the New Hampshire primary and no campaign war chest. “I’d be the first president to live off the grid,” he said to a dog relieving itself near the Old Executive Office Building. “I might not have the experience that some of the other candidates do but at least I’m not Mitt Romney.”
Dorian Davis is a former MTV HITS star turned libertarian writer. He’s been published in Business Week, NY Daily News, XY & more. He’s an NYU graduate and National Journalism Center alum. He teaches journalism at Marymount Manhattan College.