The Republican candidates will have their last “national” debate tonight, before a string of debates in Iowa begins in mid-December. The topic is an important one, foreign policy, and tomorrow we’ll rehash what the various contenders say.
Until then, and in the spirit of this week’s holiday, let’s visit the lighter side of politics and review what each of the candidates has to be thankful for — including which of their rivals they ought to mention while giving thanks.
JON HUNTSMAN: The former Utah governor can be thankful the threshold for participating in most GOP debates hasn’t been higher than 2 percent. In more than 80 national polls taken since February, Huntsman has risen above 2 percent exactly 10 times; he’s recorded zero percent, or been left off the survey, 15 times since then. But hey, four of his 3 percent showings have occurred this month — Jonmentum! ** The candidate Huntsman is most thankful for: Actually, it’s Herman Cain’s campaign manager, Mark Block, who famously took a drag of a cigarette at the end of a Cain ad — sparking a parody ad by Hunstman’s daughters, a.k.a. the Jon 2012 Girls, that got as much attention as anything the Huntsman campaign has done. (The fact that most of you probably didn’t even see that parody should tell you something.)
RICK SANTORUM: The erstwhile senator from Pennsylvania has spent the most time of any candidate, perhaps save Michele Bachmann, courting the social-conservative vote. And he’s actually been quite eloquent on that topic from time to time. So, he can be thankful the rest of the field has more or less ceded that issue to him. On the other hand, the fact that his courtship of the soc-cons hasn’t translated into much opinion-poll or fund-raising support suggests that he picked the wrong year to run such a campaign. ** The candidate Santorum is most thankful for: Whoever happens to say something in a debate with which he can violently disagree, allowing him to snatch more speaking time without having to complain about how little speaking time he’s getting.
MICHELE BACHMANN: The Minnesota congresswoman rose as high as second in the polls for 25 glorious/frightening days (depending on your perspective) from mid-July to early August. Her rise pretty much ended as soon as it became clear Rick Perry was getting in the race, and her attempts to bring him down — particularly over the issue of HPV vaccinations in Texas — undid her campaign more than his. In fact, she’s never really recovered, and probably isn’t in line for the “second look” other candidates have gotten, even if someone falls out of the top tier. That would seem to leave her with a lump of coal in her cornucopia, to mix metaphors. Ah, but she can join the rest of us in being thankful that she realized she needed only one debate appearance wearing a get-up reminiscent of a bellboy/naval officer/third-world dictator/Michael Jackson in the early ’90s. ** The candidate Bachmann is most thankful for: Ex-candidate Tim Pawlenty, the sparring partner whose ease of being beaten up allowed Bachmann to go as far as she did.
RICK PERRY: The Texas governor shall, barring a Gingrich-esque renaissance, be known henceforth as the March Candidate: In like a lion, out like a lamb. He had a Texas-size rise and a Texas-size fall, and a Texas-size stumble with his infamous “oops” moment in a debate a couple of weeks ago. But Perry can be thankful that, unlike some other candidates who faltered badly in a debate or interview, he had a staff with the wherewithal to help him make Letterman lemonade out of his verbal lemons. Probably not enough lemonade to save his campaign, mind you, but at least it was something. ** The candidate Perry is most thankful for: Bachmann, for making him look good by comparison in the early going.
RON PAUL: The longtime Texas congressman probably isn’t going any farther in 2012 than he did in 2008. But he can be thankful — “grateful” might be a better word — that Democrats and big-government Republicans in Washington have so fouled up our nation’s finances that Paul’s relatively radical, small-government liber-conservatism has continued to attract fans as a comparatively sane alternative. ** The candidate Paul is most thankful for: Rand Paul 2016! (if Barack Obama is re-elected) or 2020! (if not).
HERMAN CAIN: We’ve finally reached a candidate in the “top tier” — although we can’t be sure how much longer that’ll be an accurate description of the Georgia businessman. Cain has run a highly unorthodox campaign, and it didn’t hurt him until his fumbling responses to sexual-harassment allegations and routine questions about foreign-policy matters revealed the reason for some of the orthodoxy. He can be most thankful that a used-car salesman in Toledo, or someone, came up with a catchy tax-reform plan that sounds a lot better than it would probably be. ** The candidate Cain is most thankful for: Newt Gingrich, for playing nice with Cain while walking him toward the political trap door.
NEWT GINGRICH: The former speaker of the House, like John McCain before him, can be thankful that modern presidential campaigns run so long that a perennial candidate has the better part of a year to recover from a disastrous early campaign. That, and for a field of competitors that left him the opportunity to do just that. Oh, and for the debate moderators and formats that result in exactly the kind of preposterous questions (”In 30 seconds, tell us how you’d reform the health-care sector, which makes up one-sixth of our $15 trillion economy.”) that Gingrich swats down with winsome disdain. ** The candidate Gingrich is most thankful for: Mitt Romney circa 2008, whose poor primary campaign is one reason Obama got to run against the economically clumsy McCain in the middle of a financial meltdown, thus leaving the door open to a Republican challenger in 2012.
MITT ROMNEY: Are you kidding? Just read the foregoing litany of mistakes other campaigns have made, consider that such formidable opponents as Mitch Daniels and Jeb Bush and Chris Christie didn’t run, add the inability of anyone so far to make Romney really pay politically for his history of flip-flopping, and you need only ask: What doesn’t the former Massachusetts governor have to be thankful for? ** The candidate Romney is most thankful for: Barack Obama, the only man running for president who can make Republicans passionate about Mitt Romney.
– By Kyle Wingfield