And so now we enter the mopey phase of the GOP presidential contest. The gloom takes many forms, but foremost is the fear that the field taking shape might be the one we're stuck with.
It's like that feeling you get when you're starving and you go into a restaurant. At first everything on the menu looks great, until you have to make your choice and you realize there's nothing you actually want to eat.
There isn't a German word for this sensation, but one that comes close is futterneid -- the envy one feels when somebody orders a better meal than yours. That's not perfectly apt, but it does capture the despair that the best dishes aren't on the menu.
Another source of dread can be found in the worry that the good candidates will be vanquished, or at least diminished, by the bad and the ugly ones. This is Washington Post columnist George Will's fear. "If pessimism is not creeping on little cat's feet into Republicans' thinking about their 2012 presidential prospects," the putative dean of intellectual conservatism warns, "that is another reason for pessimism."
Will, who's famously smitten with Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, says only five GOP contenders are White House-worthy. The other four are Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi and three ex-governors -- Utah's Jon Huntsman (who resigned as U.S. ambassador to China), Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota.
Will's sharp pen here is reminiscent of Jesus' "winnowing fork," which he used to "gather his wheat into the barn," leaving the chaff to burn with "unquenchable fire." Those Will would chuck into the flames are the "careless, delusional, egomaniacal, spotlight-chasing candidates to whom the sensible American majority would never entrust a lemonade stand, much less nuclear weapons." His exhibits A and B are Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee. Will's case wasn't hurt by the fact that both had a bad week.
Some Gingrich aides signaled that he would announce an exploratory committee; others said he wouldn't. The brilliant but tragically undisciplined former House speaker compromised with a website that would explore the idea of an exploratory committee. Or something.
Meanwhile, Huckabee thought the climate was ripe for a dissertation on Barack Obama's "Kenyan" childhood. Except Obama didn't grow up in Kenya, and the more Huckabee tried to explain, the worse it got. Oh, and Huckabee began the week by tongue-lashing Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman for being pregnant out of wedlock.
Will, who is not prone to overstatement, nonetheless exaggerates his case. But you can only exaggerate the truth, and the indisputable fact is that Gingrich, Huckabee and several potential contenders are deeply flawed.