Even though predictions often prove wrong, many people like to provide them, and many others like to read and discuss them. We like our world orderly, and clinging to a potential storyline seemingly provides intellectual stability. I'm no different.
Last week, columnist Jonah Goldberg declared the 2012 "GOP Presidential primary season underway" and identified 24 potential Republican candidates, "Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, John Thune, Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels, Mike Pence, Rick Santorum, Haley Barbour, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan, David Petraeus, Ron Paul, Jeb Bush, John Bolton, Bob McDonnell, Jim DeMint, Chris Christie, Herman Cain, Gary Johnson, Judd Gregg, Marco Rubio and Rick Perry." (Gingrich is my father.)
Goldberg, who writes for National Review Online, concluded that there are "five front-runners: Romney, Palin, Gingrich, Pawlenty and Daniels. Romney is the organizational front-runner; Daniels is the first pick of wonks and D.C. eggheads; Palin probably has the most devoted following among actual voters; Gingrich will dominate the debates; and Pawlenty (vying with Daniels) is the least disliked."
This Tuesday, Michael Shear of the New York Times reported that the "hope among the potential presidential candidates -- and the reporters who cover them -- for a more leisurely start to the 2012 election-year madness" is fading.
"Officials in both Iowa and New Hampshire are talking once again about moving their contests earlier in 2012 as a way of ensuring that they will remain the first caucus or primary of the next presidential campaign."
While the contests in Iowa and New Hampshire are currently scheduled for February, Shear predicted they would be moved up a month, to January. If he's right, we are now slightly more than a year away from the first vote.
Potential candidates will be reviewing their timetables over the New Year's holiday. Will they need to start earlier than anticipated if the contests move up?
Recently, the party candidates have been decided prior to the conventions. After John McCain survived a long, hot summer of discontent and little money in 2007, he went on to win New Hampshire. Romney endorsed him in February 2008 and Huckabee (who had won Iowa) endorsed him in March. This winter consolidation of Republican support left time for McCain to focus on the general election in November.
But -- as we all know -- this early consolidation did not bear fruit. McCain was run over by a high-performance marketing machine that promised "change we can believe in."
This next election could very well be different. Given the current wide-open field and long list of candidates, the Republican nominee might not be determined before August 2012, when the Republican Convention is scheduled in Tampa, Fla. Since the 2008 early consolidation did not provide McCain with the momentum he needed to win, this might not be a bad scenario in 2012.
It would give more time for people to become engaged and talk about who they think would be best to lead our country.
Columnist Peggy Noonan wrote last month that Republicans should ask themselves big questions this election cycle: "Who can lead? Who can persuade the center? Who can summon the best from people? Who will seem credible (as a person who leads must)? Whose philosophy is both sound and discernible? Who has the intellectual heft? Who has the experience? Who seems capable of wisdom?"
This will require real focus and concentration from Republican voters.
We should have learned from the last campaign that flash is exciting, but does not lead to good governance.
Obama has not proved himself to be as spectacular at governing as he was at campaigning. According to this week's Gallup Poll, his current approval rating is 45 percent, a third lower than his high of 68 percent.
What do we know about the Republican primary campaign? It will be long, it will be hard, and it will be filled with political and personal attacks, some of which will be true and some of which will not. It will test the endurance and fortitude of every candidate, their spouses, families and organizations. The candidate who reacts to internal conflicts, opponents and press attacks will not win. Those who have a solid center, who can set their own agenda instead of reacting to others', will have an advantage.
The winner of the Republican presidential nomination will be the candidate who can best respond to the American people, who can listen to them and their concerns and provide leadership -- resulting in a candidate the voters will find more compelling the longer the campaign continues.