WASHINGTON -- One gets the sense that voters are increasingly impatient with the GOP's seemingly interminable primary battles to choose a nominee who can beat President Obama.
After an exhausting primary season of bitter debates, plus unending TV attack ads, an untold number of gaffes, embarrassing memory meltdowns and even a scandal that drove an early front-runner from the race, the contest may still have a long way to go.
It seems as though this race has been going on forever, and reporters are picking up complaints that the contest has run far too long and voters want to pick the nominee sooner rather than later.
Primary battles cost a lot of money, and they can deplete the party's war chest for the general election to come. There's also the danger the party will be so bitterly divided, and the nominee so bloodied, that the candidate will be too weak to mount a credible campaign.
I don't buy any of that. I think our system of running the prospective candidates through a long gantlet of caucuses and primaries is exactly what is required to ensure that we weed out the worst and weakest among them, dig out the skeletons in their closets, and test their ability to mount a well-financed national campaign that can go the distance.
One of the singular manifestations of the GOP's search for a nominee in the 2011-12 election cycle has been the surprisingly large number of early contenders who sped to the top of the polls, only to see their support vanish, forcing them from the race.
We had a former pizza chain executive who wanted to impose the first national sales tax in American history, on top of all the other sales taxes, and about whom relatively little was known. A sordid womanizing scandal forced him to suspend his campaign.
Then there was the folksy, late-entry Texas governor who cut ahead of everyone in line simply on the basis of being a chief executive of a big state that had created lots of jobs. It turned out he couldn't express himself very well, often went all but silent in the TV debates and couldn't remember the name of a huge federal department he said he would abolish. He never recovered.
Then came a former speaker of the House who had led his party to victory in the mid-1990s, after 40 years in the minority. He shot ahead in the polls after fiercely attacking the moderator in one of the early debates. He fell behind, only to make a second comeback, only to collapse when it was apparent that he was clearly not presidential material. He finished in last place in Illinois Tuesday.