The Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary are barely three years away, so for your year-end enjoyment I am going to give you my rankings of the Top 25 Most Likely 2012 Republican Presidential Nominees.
Mind you, there are big question marks clouding the crystal ball. Most importantly, we simply don't know how good or bad the country and the Obama Presidency will look in a couple of years.
If the status quo is looking peachy keen, then you can expect some of the Bobby Jindals and Charlie Crists to wait for '16. Also, in that scenario the Republican contest would likely be a lower-participation affair, boding well for solid conservatives, and boding ill for moderates who need to count on independents and moderate Republicans voting in the GOP primaries (as John McCain did).
There are plenty of other unknowns, but that's never stopped me before. So, here are the candidates I believe are most likely to be the GOP nominee for President in 2012, ranked in order of likelihood. With very brief comments. Keep your eye out for them in New Hampshire, any day now.
1) Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina. The sane conservative choice.
2) Mike Pence, US Representative from Indiana. The insane conservative choice.
3) Tim Pawlenty, Governor of Minnesota. No strikes against him. Slogan: "If McCain had picked me, who knows?"
4) Rick Perry, Governor of Texas. If he thinks he can win re-election in 2010, he'll do it and then run for President. If he thinks Hutchison will beat him (see #9 below), he won't run for re-election, and then run for President.
5) Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts. He has to be on the list because it's possible that nobody else with access to serious funding will run. In the meantime, will he run for governor or senator of one of his various home states (which now includes California)?
6) Jim DeMint, US Senator from South Carolina. Sure acts like he wants it more than anybody else.
7) John Thune, US Senator from South Dakota. It's a shame that Daschle isn't going for the rematch in 2010. That would be a great race.
8) Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana. Says he's not going to run in 2012. They're so cute the first time they say that!
9) Kay Bailey Hutchison. Assuming she becomes governor of Texas (see #4 above) she'd be in great position for it. Slogan: "A Republican woman who knows stuff."
10) Mitch Daniels, Governor of Indiana. A rarity: a Republican who has recently won an election.
11) Bill Frist, former Senator from Tennessee. Consider yourself warned: the doctor is planning a comeback.
12) Jon Huntsman Jr., Governor of Utah. Mormon, but less creepy than Mitt. Would be higher on this list, but I assume that Romney will torpedo him as revenge for endorsing McCain.
13) Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House from Georgia. Running for President is a great way to meet chicks.
14) Haley Barbour, Governor of Mississippi. A real rarity: a competent Republican.
15) Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska. Would be lower on this list, but how do I know it isn't God's will?
16) Charlie Crist, Governor of Florida. He got married to a woman earlier this month, which is supposed to put the gay rumors behind him. Good luck with that.
17) Eric Cantor, US Representative from Virginia. He's Mr. Ambition. And conservative Christians don't think Jews are as weird as Mormons.
18) Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas. Have you noticed that he's been putting the weight back on? Remember when everyone was watching Al Gore's waistline for signs that he was getting in shape to run last year?
19) John Ensign, US Senator from Nevada. As chair of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, he cleverly cleared away much of the field of prominent Republicans.
20) Tom Ridge, former Secretary of Homeland Security. Great candidate, but his pro-choice position makes him unfeasible -- unless he can concoct a better magical sanctity-of-life conversion story than Romney did. Possible campaign slogan: "I left Homeland Security WAAAYY before Katrina!"
21) Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida. Perhaps the next US Senator from Florida. Still, 2012 might be too soon for rehabbing the family name.
22) Gen. David Petraeus, CENTCOM Commander. An awful lot of conservatives seem to think this is a serious possibility, and I guess it makes at least as much sense as Wesley Clark did.
23) Lindsay Graham, Senator from South Carolina. Third most likely South Carolinian.
24) Don Carcieri, Governor of Rhode Island. Sure, nobody knows him. That's his upside.
25) Unknown business tycoon. I'm sorry to wimp out like that, but I think there's a legitimate chance that the nominee will be some extremely successful but relatively little-known executive -- a center-conservative version of Virginia's Mark Warner, or a Christian version of Michael Bloomberg -- who has never run for public office before. And I have no idea who it might be.