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Is the GOP 2012 Presidential Field "Set"?

The events of the last several weeks have provided some degree of clarity to the emerging Republican presidential field.  Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels, and -- yes -- Donald Trump will not run.  Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul will.  Several other contenders are likely to jump in as well, including Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Santorum.   But does a sense of finality or stability accompany this increased clarity?  A spirited debate over that very question is underway among Republican officials and conservative commentators.  More than a few voices now assert that the field is locked in at this point.  Among them is respected Republican strategist, former RNC Chairman, and former Bush advisor Ed Gillespie...


Some high-powered Republicans are starting to say it is, with former RNC Chair Ed Gillespie predicting: “The field is largely now settled, and Republican activists and donors will begin increasingly choosing between those who are declared.”

...Radio talk show host and columnist Hugh Hewitt...

The reason various candidates are taking a pass this year is that the top two contenders --Romney and Pawlenty-- have essentially locked up the campaign talent and the money commitments necessary to mount a traditional campaign, and that insurgent candidates are already in the hunt in the form of Bachmann, Gingrich and Santorum.  Jon Huntsman also presents himself as an unusual sort of candidate taking even more space from the idea of a later entrant.

Though the circle of MSMers keep saying the GOP longs for another candidate, that is a Manhattan-Beltway media elite meme.  The Republicans I know have picked candidates and begun raising money for their choices.  They are quite satisfied with the field, except for Sarah Palin's many fans, and many of them are content with Michele Bachmann as a substitute.

...and a collection of "GOP insiders:"

High-level Republican leaders tell POLITICO that they now believe the top tier of the presidential field is set, and that no major donors or operatives will remain on the sidelines hoping a dream candidate will make a last-minute entry.

These leaders calculate that they are better off to accept the Mitch Daniels-less field as it is and not continue to waffle, letting President Barack Obama continue to build strength while the GOP dawdles.

Other influential center-right figures disagree.  Within the last 36 hours, the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, columnist Charles Krauthammer, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and National Review's Jonah Goldberg have all urged Rep. Paul Ryan to throw his hat into the ring.  Ryan has repeatedly denied any interest in doing so -- as have other sought-after candidates like Chris Christie and Marco Rubio.  In spite of these adamant denials, Kristol predicts that the next Republican nominee has likely not entered the race yet:

I’ll buy Ed [Gillespie] the kind of steak dinner a man of his stature deserves, if the nominee a) comes from the current field and b) goes on to beat President Obama. And I’ll include in the current field (since they seem very likely to run) Michele Bachmann and Jon Huntsman, in addition of course to Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, and Gary Johnson.

Meanwhile, I get Peking duck courtesy of Ed if the nominee who goes on to beat Obama is someone not now running and not now saying he intends to run. This includes Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Jeb Bush, and Sarah Palin—and those who’ve gotten out but who could get back in, such as John Thune, Mike Pence, Mitch Daniels, or Mike Huckabee.


Let's examine the names on Kristol's list.  I appreciate that one questions Bill's prognostication skills at his or her own risk -- the Weekly Standard editor was, after all, a very early predictor of, and advocate for, the inclusion of Sarah Palin on John McCain's ticket in 2008.  Nevertheless, I wonder if he's being a bit ambitious with this prediction.  As I alluded to above, Ryan, Christie, and Bush have all vehemently denied any intention or desire to run.  Is there any reason to doubt their sincerity?  Mitch Daniels and Mike Huckabee have both explicitly and publicly declined to run -- could they credibly explain a possible reversal down the road?  Sen. Thune bowed out early, and although he's well-respected, I don't get the sense that the base views him as the knight in shining armor who could swoop in and save the day.  In fact, I haven't heard his name connected to any presidential buzz since the day he dropped out.  That leaves two people: Rick Perry and Sarah Palin.  They are, in my view, the likeliest remaining dark horses to join the sprint toward the GOP home stretch.  As we reported last week, Perry allies have been testing the waters in several early states, and the Texas governor certainly has a strong record on which to mount a campaign.  And Palin has been playing a 'will-she/won't-she' game for months.  Her recent "fire in the belly" remarks have fueled further speculation.
Republican primary voters and grassroots advocates must ask themselves two questions:  Is the GOP field settled as of Daniels' demurral, and should it be?   I happen to suspect that additional entrants into the race are unlikely, but not impossible.  That doesn't necessarily mean that other candidates shouldn't continue to weigh their options, perhaps watch a debate or two, then make a final decision.  The Iowa caucuses are more than eight months away.  It sounds terribly trite, but that's an eternity in politics.  If I had to place a bet on the question on the table, my head would instruct me to side with Gillespie, Hewitt, et al.  But my heart, based on a nagging suspicion that we're in for another wild presidential cycle, continues to entertain the possibility that we ain't seen nothin' yet.


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