Jared Olar: GOP nominee is anybody’s guess
Buh-bye, Newt! Hope you enjoyed your remarkably brief presidential campaign!
Yes, yes, I know former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who just announced his candidacy last week, hasn’t dropped out of the running ... yet.
But after starting this week with comments on Medicare reform that ticked off most of the people he will need to secure the GOP nomination (let alone the presidency), I think we should get it over with and bid him adieu now.
Most likely Gingrich’s gaffe is only the latest example of what Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto has called his “too curious” temperament: “too quick to latch onto ideas and drop them rather than give them thoughtful consideration.”
All the same, stumbling so soon out of the starting gate isn’t a good sign, and I wonder if it signals that Gingrich himself is aware that he stands almost no chance of becoming the GOP’s nominee.
It has nothing to do with his failed marriages and past adultery — as I’ve noted before in this column space, hardly anyone cares about that sort of thing these days, and it really serves as little more than fodder for lame Leno jokes. It has more to do with his knack for saying things that undermine or weaken his own party’s efforts (e.g. his past positions on climate change or the individual mandate).
But mostly it has to do with the fact that, as columnist Peggy Noonan has noted, apart from Gingrich himself there doesn’t seem to be anyone in his party who would like to see him as president.
Another Republican presidential candidate who is destined to run an ultimately futile campaign is Mitt “ObamaCare-is-awful-but-my-identical-plan-is-wonderful” Romney.
Last week, Romney gave exactly the speech that President Barack Obama must have been hoping he would give: an incoherent defense of the health care overhaul that Romney implemented in Massachusetts, accompanied by fervent “ObamaCare-bad-RomneyCare-good” handwaving, despite the fact that ObamaCare was intentionally modeled on RomneyCare. With both Gingrich and Romney, the Democrats’ attack ads will practically write themselves.
The GOP can at least breathe a sigh of relief that it dodged the bullet of a Donald Trump presidential campaign this week. It’s a depressing commentary on the state of American culture and politics in general, and of the poor judgment of so many right-leaning Americans, that even for a short time the Birtherist-pandering, egotistical Trump was seriously considered as a possible candidate.
But circus sideshows such as the one to which Trump treated us are the kind of diversions you get when there is no clear front-runner in a large pack of presidential hopefuls and maybe-hopefuls.
In truth, it would be very strange if the GOP had a strong front-runner at this stage of the game, some seven or eight months before the race really gets under way with the first primaries and caucuses. Whenever an incumbent president seeks reelection, the opposing party goes through a prolonged process of vetting and weeding out possible contenders, so the uncertainty we’re seeing among the Republicans is not at all unusual.
So, the Republicans have already weeded out Trump, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. In due time Gingrich and Romney will join those never-rans.
There are still others contemplating a run, such as former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann — and of course all the speculation about former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. At this point we can’t tell if the campaigns of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, or former Godfather’s Pizza chairman and CEO Herman Cain will gain traction.
An Obama vs. Cain match-up would be the most interesting, as the first-ever presidential contest between two African-Americans. Cain appears to be attracting positive buzz after his good showing in a recent debate, but whether anything will come of that is anybody’s guess.
And “it’s anybody’s guess” is all we can say right now about who the GOP nominee will be.
Jared Olar may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.