I’ve been doing these rankings every two months
since right after the last Presidential election (here's the last one), and every two months I get a bunch of
messages about how Ron Paul is obviously going to win the GOP nomination, and
how I’m obviously an idiot or part of the vast anti-Paul conspiracy.
I expect those messages to increase in number and self-assurance now,
thanks to Paul’s
first-place finish in the Presidential Straw Poll at the Conservative Political
Action Conference (CPAC).
But I’m still not putting him on the list. Paul is not going to be the nominee. But, you know, feel free to send those messages.
CPAC was one of the big things that happened since my last rankings. What
was most interesting to me about CPAC was the optimism. You wouldn’t know that
the GOP is almost completely out of power at the national level, and that the
party’s biggest state-level elected officials (Schwarzenegger, Crist) have repudiated movement conservatives like those at CPAC.
Instead, they seem really jazzed
up that conservative politics is back in ascendance, and that we’re heading
toward a big November for Republicans, and conservative candidates especially.
If that turns out to be true, I imagine there will be quickly be intense interest in the 2012 nomination process -- perhaps giving a boost to movement favorites like Mike Pence, who would need to raise money for a run via Internet "money bomb" drives.
But what if 2010 doesn't turn out so well -- and especially if conservatives do poorly? That might deflate some of the exuberance, while also reinforcing GOP insiders' desire to promote an 'electable' candidate. Or, at least a 'not disastrous' candidate.
Anyway, on to the new rankings. Same top two, but a lot of movement below -- and four new or returning names! Previous ranking is in parentheses.
1) Tim Pawlenty, Governor of Minnesota.
East Coast urban sophisticates saw Pawlenty’s CPAC speech as uninspiring. I saw
it as perfect for Iowa.
Hey, you know who else was no good at delivering a slick, rousing, barn-burner
of a stump speech? Every Republican Presidential nominee of the last
quarter-century, that’s who. (1)
2) Mike Pence, US Representative from Indiana. He’s been making it pretty darn
clear that he intends to run for President. He wouldn’t consider going for
Senate even after Evan Bayh called it quits. Question is, does it help or hurt
him if the GOP really does take over the House majority? (2)
3) Rick Perry, Governor of Texas.
The gubernatorial primary tomorrow, which was supposed to be a blockbuster clash
of titans, is instead just a question of whether Perry will get 50%, or go on
to pummel Kay Bailey Hutchison in a run-off. The ease of his apparent victory allows
him to pivot back toward center -- well, towards somewhere in shouting distance
of center -- for the general election. (4)
4) Jim DeMint, US Senator from South
Carolina. DeMint was not on the CPAC Straw Poll
ballot, which means he didn’t lobby to have his name on it, which may mean he’s
not thinking of running. Or, maybe he just doesn’t want to be talked about as a
Presidential candidate -- but nothing about him suggests he’s capable of such
clever thinking. On the other hand, Marc Ambinder just declared DeMint his 2012
dark horse, and Ambinder doesn’t just make these things up out of the blue. (3)
5) Haley Barbour, Governor of Mississippi.
Since taking over for Mark Sanford as chair of the Republican Governors
Association, Barbour has been raising money at a faster clip than even Mitt
Romney did as RGA chair. He’s also won a couple of elections for the party,
which is better than Romney did there. But more importantly, Barbour offered himself
up for my patented Al Gore Indicator of Presidential interest, telling the
press that “If you see me losing 40 pounds, that means I’m either running or
have cancer.” (7)
6) Mitch Daniels, Governor of Indiana.
He’s moved quickly from the ‘what, me, aw shucks, never’ phase to the ‘leaving
the option open’ phase. Republicans looking for a non-deranged candidate are
starting to talk openly about him, as Russ Douthat does today in his Times column. (9)
7) John Thune,
US Senator from South Dakota. His name
was on the CPAC ballot, which is more important than whether he got any votes.
Watch for him to get more active nationally if no Democrat files to run against
him this year by the March 30 deadline. (5)
8) Mitt Romney, former Governor from Massachusetts.
He’s off and running, touring the country for his new book. (See my article and
review.) But as I wrote, I’m skeptical that he can put a winning strategy
9) Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives. Newt
is insisting in interviews that people take seriously the idea of him running
for President. At this rate, I think he may back himself into actually running.
At CPAC, he was the only speaker to enter not from backstage, but from the back
of the hall, so that he could wade through the adoring crowd, like Rocky
walking to the ring. Then he gave a hysterical -- in both senses of the word --
speech about how far America
has descended into tyranny. (8)
10) Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida. Slowly moving up, moving up... (11)
11) Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana.
I still don’t see how he can do it if he’s also running for re-election in
2011, but now I’m thinking he might not really run for re-election. (14)
12) Bob Corker, US
Senator from Tennessee.
Corker came away from the big health care summit as “the rational Republican.”
Comparatively, of course. (16)
13) John Kasich, former US
Congressman from Ohio.
GOP insiders tell me there is great interest in a 2010 candidate for governor
or Senator catching fire and running for the big seat in ’12 -- and they say
that Kasich is the guy everyone’s watching. Right now, they’re watching Kasich
trailing in the polls to Democratic incumbent Ted Strickland. (--)
14) Sarah Palin, former Governor of Alaska. Her palm-written notes at the Tea
Party Convention earned some lamestream-media mocking, but the Obama-bashing speech
itself convinced some serious people that she’s running in 2012. I’m still
skeptical, but I’ll move her up a little. But, could someone explain to her
that’s not what people mean by ‘talk to the hand’? (18)
15) Dan Quayle, former Vice President. I ran this one up the flagpole last
time, and nobody laughed. Since then, his son Ben declared himself a candidate
for Congress in Arizona.
16) Luis Fortuno, Governor of Puerto Rico.
After he debuted on this list two months ago, he suddenly got embroiled in a
huge messy debate involving rum. Apparently Fortuno is pissed that Captain
Morgan’s is going to be made in the Virgin Islands instead of Puerto Rico, and now
Bacardi is pissed, and frankly I don’t know what the hell is going on but it’s
way more interesting than what the other people on this list are doing. (12)
17) Jon Kyl, US Senator from Arizona. I’m not seeing it. (13)
18) Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas. The Gore Waistline Indicator is
still skeptical of Huckabee, but I keep hearing that his operatives are acting
like he’s going to run. He took a potshot at CPAC (which I give him credit for),
but I’m not sure how he plans to expand his base. (17)
19) Marco Rubio, former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.
Rubiomania still in effect. They loved him at CPAC! (22)
20) Eric Cantor,
US Representative from Virginia. Cantor seemed
unbelievably silly and irrelevant in the big health care summit. Everything he
touches seems to fail. Am I crazy, or is he perfectly situated to rise to
Speaker for the GOP at some point? (10)
21) Jeff Sessions, US Senator from Alabama.
Got mentioned by polisci prof John Tures and
talk-radio loon Michael
Savage, so why not? (--)
Rice, former Secretary of State. She
popped into view, endorsing Meg Whitman in California.
Re-start the Draft Condi engines! (--)
23) Jon Huntsman,
US Ambassador to China.
I took him off the list when he took off to the other side of the world, but
Ambinder (see above) and others claim he’s still interested in 2012. Not sure
how that’s supposed to work, but OK. (--)
24) George Pataki, former governor of New York. Looks better and better in
comparison with subsequent NY guvs. (23)
25) Rick Santorum, former US
Senator from Pennsylvania.
Heading to South Carolina.
I’m sure they’re excited to have him. (19)
Dropping off the list: Kay Bailey Hutchison, Paul Ryan, Dirk Kempthorne, Chuck Grassley