Chris Cillizza, who writes "The Fix" political blog at the Washington Post, is one of the best of the best. But his analysis -- in my humble opinion -- is very wrong about the 2012 Republican Presidential race, for which he has just updated his Top 10 rankings. (I'll have my new rankings up early next week.)
First off, Cillizza falls into the trap I blogged about yesterday, of discussing the possibility of Mitt Romney "skipping" Iowa. He compounds that by writing that "in hindsight," Hillary Clinton should have skipped Iowa in 2008. I think that's crazy; Clinton's mistake was losing Iowa, by running a really, really bad campaign there. Her campaign also apparently made the mistake -- which I warned of early and often -- of thinking that black Southerners were actually going to vote for her, as early polls suggested, if in fact there was a viable black candidate in the field. Ceding Iowa would have guaranteed Obama's viability.
But, let's not belabor that point.
Cillizza has our man Romney, the Barnstormin' Mormon, at number one, which I think is wrong but is certainly a defensible call.
But his next three, in order, are Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and Mike Huckabee. I think that's just crazy talk.
None of those three has any significant establishment Republican support -- to the contrary, establishment Republicans are almost unanimously determined to avoid having any of those three atop the 2012 ticket. That means they won't be able to put together the kind of big-time operation that a well-known, top-tier candidate needs to run -- an unknown can run on a shoestring, building support along the way while the world pretty much leaves them alone, but not these guys. From day one, they'll be under a microscope (and under attack), and if they're running a half-assed campaign, it'll show.
More importantly, Palin and Gingrich, and to a large extent Huckabee, have virtually no chance of expanding their popularity beyond the (primarily religious part of the) movement-conservative base. That's just not enough.
There's a broader, very interesting issue about whether religious movement conservatives will end up voting for 'one of their own,' if you will, or end up choosing from among the viable-looking frontrunners.
I would argue that they've always done the latter -- ultimately not voting for (or polling for) Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, or Alan Keyes.
However, they did with Huckabee in 2008. An argument could be made that this demonstrated that things have changed -- that religious conservatives are now going to stick with the religious conservative candidate who shows no signs of appealing to anyone else in the party.
I don't think that's the case. I think 2008 was an anomoly in this respect, for at least two reasons.
First, the media took Huckabee seriously, especially after the Iowa Straw Poll, in a way that they never did with the others. Huckabee had been a governor; not only that, he came across as affable and serious (and he was nice to the press), and didn't talk about Jesus and abortions all the time. The media treated him as a serious, viable candidate, which made it easy for religious conservatives to support him.
Secondly, the viable frontrunning establishment candidates were really, really awful from a religious conservative's perspective. You had A) a gay-friendly, pro-choice New Yorker; B) an irreligious (many Christian conservative leaders came away from meetings with McCain concluding that he is an atheist) enemy of movement conservatives for campaign-finance laws that restricted their money-raising and -spending; and C) a Mormon (?!?) with a pro-choice history.
That second problem just won't be the case this year. Tim Pawlenty is a verse-spouting diehard religious man (one of the reasons I rank him #1) whose personal pastor is one of the most influential in the country. Haley Barbour and John Thune have religious-right cred; so do Rick Perry and Jim DeMint, if they run. (So did Mike Pence.)
My point is that there will be plenty of viable options for religious movement conservatives from among the top-tier, viable, well-funded candidates with a real chance to compete in a general election. To my mind, the winner is likely to be the one from among that group who is best able to build that establishment campaign and woo those religious conservatives -- which is why I'm so bullish on Pawlenty, and bearish on Romney.