President Obama and his agenda are unspeakably disastrous for the nation, so this election matters more than any in my lifetime. The national debt clock is ticking faster than Obama's heart beats for big government, and his re-election would guarantee virtual national bankruptcy. That's why the grass-roots tea party phenomenon sprouted, and it's why there is so much scrutiny of the GOP candidates.
Every month or so, a new front-runner emerges in this volatile race. We've gone from Sarah Palin (in theory) to Donald Trump (for some, anyway) to Tim Pawlenty (sort of) to Michele Bachmann to Rick Perry to Herman Cain to Newt Gingrich, with Mitt Romney persistently vying with the "generic Republican" as the first choice of an unenthusiastic, default plurality. Throughout, some have hoped in vain that Palin, Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie or Paul Ryan would agree to be drafted.
Conservatives began this election season fiercely determined to prevent the Republican Party from nominating another uninspiring, ideologically lukewarm candidate whose claim was based more on entitlement than merit. There would be no more Bob Doles or John McCains, whose centrism alone would be disqualifying.
The conservative base wants to know it can rely on the nominee to have the character and courage to govern as a conservative, and that's assuming he or she meets the essential threshold of electability.
At the dawn of the campaign, few thought Cain or Newt, for different reasons, would be serious contenders, but as it has unfolded, they both have exceeded expectations and have led the pack for an appreciable time. The same is true for Bachmann, though her star faded more rapidly than the others.
Perry's trajectory has been exactly the opposite. He burst onto the scene as an immediate front-runner, with apparent credentials, charisma and a mostly conservative record. But his early debate performances were so substandard that he knocked himself out of serious contention almost as quickly as he'd gotten there.
When Cain captured the lead, a group of women surfaced, accusing him of sexual misconduct sufficiently troublesome to seriously damage any Republican -- as opposed to Democratic -- candidate. Because of the doubt cast on those allegations and Cain's emphatic denials, they didn't, on their own, sabotage his candidacy (though this latest one might). But when the accusations were coupled with concerns about Cain's range of knowledge, mostly on foreign policy issues, his numbers began to fall sharply.