Now that we’re through with the first several debates and have a short break before the next one, I thought I’d share my thoughts on where we stand. I have been very surprised by some of the happenings, both in the debates and in the polls.
One of my early surprises is my comfort level with Mitt Romney. I still don’t trust him, and will never be convinced that he is really a Conservative. I believe he is trying to fulfill his father’s unrealized dream of becoming President, and his father (and mother) were quintessential country club Rockefeller Republicans who hated Barry Goldwater. As they say, the apple never falls far from the tree. That said, he comes across as very polished, practiced, and, dare I say, presidential. I am not as pessimistic as some about his chances to win a general election vs Obama as some are. However, I still do not see him rising above about 30% in the primary race, so his only saving grace will probably be the winner-take-all primary system.
I have also been surprised by the Icarus-like fall of Rick Perry. I was very excited about the prospect of his candidacy, and was eager to see how he did once he jumped in. He clearly has top-rank fundraising ability, and may yet make a comeback, but he seems so unable to spontaneously form an articulate defense of any conservative principles that I have a hard time seeing him getting to the top of the heap. Lately, I have spent a lot of time closing my eyes and trying to visualize debates between Obama and the various candidates. When it’s Rick Perry’s turn, I always have to open my eyes in disgust at the thought. That’s a shame, because I do like Rick Perry.
Herman Cain has been a huge surprise. I wrote him off initially as a fringe candidate with no real hope. So did the entire news media, political punditry, and even the Conservative blogosphere. But his 9-9-9 plan was a stroke of political genius (regardless of its intrinsic merits), and he has risen to the early lead almost exclusively on the newness of that plan and his likeability. Don’t knock likeability, either, as it almost single-handedly elected GWB…twice. I think Cain has a real shot at the nomination, but he better get some really smart advisors on board (a la Ed Rollins) VERY SOON before he inserts his foot any farther down his throat.
Michele Bachmann is finished, even before her annoying “Anderson! Anderson! Anderson!” performance last night. I liked her much more before the campaign started…she hasn’t worn well on me. Same with Rick Santorum. I think he entered the race to raise his profile to perhaps run for the Senate again. If so, he’s long past the point of helping himself. Jon Huntsman should drop out…today. And Ron Paul will never drop out, but has no chance. Though I’m actually enjoying watching him in the debates.
That leaves Newt. He has been the biggest surprise to me, even bigger than Cain. I did not take his candidacy seriously when he first got in (and maybe he didn’t really, either!). But looking at all the debates so far as a whole, I can safely say that Gingrich has won the debates. By a mile. It’s not…even…close. When I close my eyes and think of him on the stage with Obama, it brings a smile to my face. I can picture Obama running off the stage crying like a kindergardener who has been teased by a gang of mean playground kids. Despite all this, he has not made huge gains in the polling, though he has moved into 3rd place in some of the polls. Clearly, his baggage (infidelity, divorces, ethics issues, Pelosi couch incident) is keeping him from getting more traction. But the more I reflect on his candidacy, the less that baggage seems to matter to me. Frankly, I would feel less troubled pulling the lever for Gingrich than I would Romney. Heck, at this point I’d be less troubled pulling the lever for Gingrich than for Perry. And Perry’s an Eagle Scout.
So where does all this leave me? I don’t know yet. But I am more and more convinced that Gingrich should be on the ticket, one way or the other. Right now, I would lean either Cain/Gingrich, Gingrich/Cain, or perhaps Gingrich/Rubio.
So that’s my two cents. Interested to hear yours.