Is this it? That's the question that hangs over the Republican presidential field, and the answer is, "Yes, this is it -- no shining conservative on a white horse, no new Ronald Reagan, is arriving to re-make this race."
Newt Gingrich is not getting in, and apparently had no serious intention of getting in. Fred Thompson is in and has proved to be another flawed candidate in a field full of them. Someone has to win this race, but it's easier to find reasons why each candidate will lose rather than prevail.
Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani are doing best in the early state and national polls respectively. The former Massachusetts governor and New York City mayor have been engaged in fierce arguments over the conservative purity of their records on immigration and fiscal issues in which the winner can only be "none of the above." Past purity is the hallmark of neither man, both of whom were elected as moderate-to-liberal Republicans in liberal areas that would abide no other kind.
Romney and Giuliani now rival one another for the title of least convincing conversion story. Is it Romney's transformation to committed pro-lifer through a discussion with a scientist of the issue of embryonic stem-cell research? Or Giuliani's new appreciation for gun rights after 9/11, something he never mentioned publicly until a speech at the National Rifle Association?
It's the uncomfortable fit both men make as standard-bearer of a conservative party that helped create the opening for Thompson. The former Tennessee senator graced the stage of a Republican debate for the first time this week. He performed adequately, a low-key presence who -- oddly enough for a Hollywood actor -- lacked the wattage of his top-tier rivals. He's still acclimating to the race and at this rate will be fully prepared and ready to run in the spring of next year, when the race will probably have been decided.
That leaves, among the plausible contenders, John McCain. His campaign crashed a few months ago because of his support for an amnesty for illegal immigrants, but an ember still burns amidst the wreckage because McCain is more authentic than Romney, more conservative than Giuliani and more vibrant than Thompson.