Eventually, the 2012 Republican presidential primary race will boil down to just two candidates. One will be the establishment candidate and the other will be the conservative candidate.
Either would have a real chance of beating Barack Obama in the general election, but the conservative candidate would have the better chance.
As early as it is, the Republican Party's internal "establishment" primary is almost over. Only two candidates are now competing for that nod: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman -- who most recently served as Obama's ambassador to China.
In the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, Romney leads the Republican field with 25 percent. Huntsman trails the field with 2 percent. If Huntsman can triple his support to 6 percent, he will nudge ahead of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is at 5 percent, but still lag behind Rep. Ron Paul, who is at 6.5 percent.
When people start casting votes in the early Republican contests this winter -- the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary -- Romney will still be a viable candidate. Huntsman may not make it even that far.
So, if Romney is likely to be the establishment Republican candidate, who will emerge as the conservative candidate?
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty gave a good indicator Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Host David Gregory asked Pawlenty, "What makes you different than Congresswoman (Michele) Bachmann?"
"Well, I like Congresswoman Bachmann," Pawlenty responded.
"I've campaigned for her," he said. "I respect her.
"But her record of accomplishment in Congress is nonexistent. It's nonexistent," Pawlenty continued. "And so we're not looking for folks who, you know, just have speech capabilities, we're looking for people who can lead a large enterprise in a public setting and drive it to conclusion. I've done that, she hasn't."
Gregory -- a predictable establishment-media liberal -- then invited Pawlenty to bash Bachmann for being "too controversial" (which is liberal-speak for someone who is outspokenly conservative) and for possessing "a temperament that's not suitable for the presidency" (which is liberal-speak for someone who does not cower when the establishment media attempts to intimidate her into abandoning her principles).
Unlike former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who in May accepted Gregory's invitation to bash Rep. Paul Ryan and his budget plan, Pawlenty answered shrewdly.