Rich Lowry fears that the Republican presidential field might be Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich at the top of the pack with Rick Santorum, John Huntsman, Herman Cain and Gary Johnson running behind. Yikes. Here are some thoughts on some of the candidates Lowry mentions,
Romney - It's all been said. His authenticity problems (both as to style and substance) aren't going away. Ramesh Ponnuru explains why Romneycare will probably be a bigger hurdle for Romney in 2012 than it was in 2008.
Gingrich - He has never shown appeal to voters outside a subgroup of conservatives. I doubt he could get elected Senator from Georgia never mind President of the United States. Even if he couldn't win, there was a time when Gingrich would have been useful in the primaries because he would raise important ideas that other candidates might ignore. That time has gone. Look at this battle plan Gingrich came up with for congressional Republicans in 2006. Not even getting into the disintegration of his second marriage, or his ethanol demagoguery, Gingrich has turned being "the ideas guy" into a hustle.
Pawlenty - I've read some people knock him as being too bland. Actually, when he gets in front of a national audience, Pawlenty tends to become obnoxious. Remember his 2010 CPAC speech when he suggested that America take inspiration from an act of domestic violence? He meant spousal abuse and not terrorism but I don't know if that makes it worse or better. His 2011 CPAC speech was an improvement. He gave us a glimpse of an agenda when he said "whether it's education, health care, housing, or just about anything else, we need to put people in charge, give them the power to make their own decisions, not government." That is a good start, but it is worthless if it stays at that level of abstraction. We'll see if he can use those basic principles to craft policies and then explain the benefits of those policies to persuadable voters. But even in 2011, Pawlenty couldn't help himself. The transcript doesn't do justice to Pawlenty's pro wrestling-style phony outrage when he bellowed "And, Mr. President, stop apologizing for our country." Well I guess it beats having anything real to say about the unfolding events in Egypt or ongoing American counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan. Pawlenty actually has an okay record as governor. He kept spending down and didn't raise taxes (well he tried to raise cigarette taxes but it was a complicated failure.) He instituted some price transparency reforms in health care. They aren't game changers absent changes in coverage mandates and tax subsidies, but they are something. He has a record as a consistent social conservative. Pawlenty obviously wants to be President very badly. I doubt he is what this country needs, but I would guess he has the best chance of winning of any of the candidates Lowry mentions. That means he is probably doomed.
Herman Cain - He lost the only political campaign he ever ran and the FairTax will come back to haunt him if he becomes more than a gadfly candidate. But in a small field where the better known candidates are making clumsy and transparently cynical appeals to conservatives, there might be an opening for a principled populist outsider with a business background and a good understanding of the right-leaning media.
A Pawlenty vs. Romney is likely to resolve itself as a battle between the attempted tax raiser and the flip-flopping stepfather of Obamacare. That would be a waste of the public's attention. I think the field Lowry describes would probably lead us to:
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