You knew it would be here before long. The momentum that Republicans gained last week means the talk about the 2012 GOP presidential primary is already well under way.
On Tuesday, National Journal’s Hotline released its inaugural “2012 Presidential Power Rankings.” There are 15 candidates in four descending tiers, based on money, campaign infrastructure, strengths and weaknesses:
The A-List Tier
1. Mitt Romney
2. Tim Pawlenty
3. John Thune
4. Haley Barbour
The Fox News Tier
5. Mike Huckabee
6. Sarah Palin
7. Newt Gingrich
8. Mike Pence
The Governor/VP/’16 Tier
9. Mitch Daniels
10. Chris Christie
11. Rick Perry
12. Bobby Jindal
The Tea Party Tier
13. Rick Santorum
14. Jim DeMint
15. R. Paul (left ambiguous on purpose to leave an opening for Ron or his son, Rand)
What do I make of such a list? Beyond the fact that it’s way too long?
I think Romney is definitely in the top tier (for now, let’s ignore Hotline’s names for the tiers), and Pawlenty probably is as well. Where they’ll shake out in the end, I don’t know. I still think Romney’s five-minute explanation for how his health reform in Massachusetts is different from ObamaCare takes about four minutes, 55 seconds too long.
John Thune? I know some people in these parts who really like the guy; they have yet to convince me he’s something more than the right’s version of Barack Obama. I know that’s kind of the standard knock on the guy, but I think it’s pretty much true. The GOP has to nominate someone with significant executive experience to run against Obama.
Barbour: I know he’s one of the strongest in terms of organization and fund-raising prowess, and call me shallow, but I just don’t think it’s in the cards for a white man with a Southern drawl in 2012. At the very most, I’ll believe it when I see it. So, let’s go ahead and take Huckabee (who would delight social conservatives but make fiscal conservatives rather nervous) and Perry (anyone who’s used the S-word — secession — is not going to win the presidency imo) down a couple of pegs as well.
Palin: Obviously, she’s the wild card: Will she win? And what will that mean? For all the attempts to portray her as an intellectual lightweight, this week she had my very serious former colleagues at The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page praising her approach to monetary policy and the need for a sound dollar. In the end, I think she’s too polarizing; the GOP doesn’t need a candidate who fires up the Democratic base the way Nancy Pelosi fired up the Republican base this year.
Gingrich: He’s trying to position himself as a health-reform guru, which will prove either brilliant or a couple of years too late. A lot of people think he carries too much baggage from his time as speaker of the House, and that sounds about right to me.
Pence: He’d be a darling of the tea partiers, and he has had practice taking on Obama. But can he go straight from the House to the White House? I’m skeptical. But hey, I was skeptical that Obama could go from the Illinois legislature to the White House so quickly.
Daniels: He’s made a couple of perceived gaffes, talking about calling a truce on social issues and expressing a willingness to explore a value-added tax, or VAT. The good news for him: He made those statements very early in the process, which means he has time to make people forget them; and even though they are perceived as gaffes, he may be able to explain them in a way that brings people on board rather than turning them away. His track record as Indiana’s governor is impressive. I’ll be watching him.
Christie: He says he’s not running. The subsequent mini-scandal about his overpaying for travel expenses by about $2,000 while serving as a U.S. Attorney suggests not everyone believes him. He would be a stark contrast with Obama on dealings with public-sector unions, and he will probably have a leg up on him and most of this field in terms of dealing with our looming pensions disaster. He certainly needs a couple of more years in his track record to prove he’s the genuine article, and he’d probably benefit greatly from staying out of the national fray until 2016 or later. But as a VP candidate? Or if the front-runners fail to impress? We’ll see.
Jindal: He’d draw a strong contrast with Obama on the handling of the Gulf oil spill. Take everything I said about Christie, beginning with “He certainly needs a couple of more years,” and apply it here.
I don’t see anyone in the last tier as a serious challenger in 2012. The only omitted name I can think of at this time is Marco Rubio, whom I’d put alongside Christie and Jindal. Maybe Rep. Paul Ryan, although I think he’s probably better suited for the House.
There’s my very, very early handicap of the race. Your thoughts?