None of the supposed GOP “front runners” — if there is such a thing at E-18 months — participated in last night’s GOP debate. This is probably why it was actually interesting. Feel free post your thoughts. Not much is settled at this point — we don’t even know what the issues will be in 2012. But my brief impressions of the guys who are vying for fourth place:
- Gary Johnson does not have a chance. It’s a pity because he’s smart, libertarian and could win moderates. But he’s a little too … invisible to win the GOP nomination, especially when he’s on the stage with firebrands like Paul, Cain and Santorum. I did like him quite a bit, though and have since his gubernatorial days. Plus, how cool would it be to have a President who has climbed Everest?
- Ron Paul reminded me of why I like him so much. Four years older and he’s still energetic and passionate. His defense of drug legalization was one of the highlights of the night. I’m not sure he’d be a good candidate given his past associations with Lew Rockwell and his somewhat kooky fiscal ideas. But having a Goldwater-esque pyrrhic victory might be just what Dr. No ordered. I really hope he stays in the field for a long time to force the other candidates to be honest. His influence has only grown.
- Tim Pawlenty made zero impression on me. He’s trying to straddle a lot of issues, Romney-style, including creationism and cap-and-trade. I just don’t see him gaining much traction with the rank-and-file GOP. He wouldn’t be bad President, I think. But his personal appeal isn’t strong.
- Rick Santorum reminded me that he is still a steaming bag of santorum. His Culture War positions were old ten years ago and his style is grating and sanctimonious. I do think, however, that he has a shot at the vice-presidency if a more moderate Republican (Romney, T-Paw) takes the lead. Social conservatives tend to like him and I probably dislike and slag him a lot more than he deserves.
- Herman Cain had the best night, despite the panel’s attempts to avoid talking to him. This is really the first time he’s been on a national stage and he was clear, cogent and passionate. I disagree with Cain on a number of issues and am unconvinced that he would make a good President. But, like Paul, I hope he sticks with his candidacy for a while. He will liven up future debates. And between the two of them, they’ll make Trump look like an idiot.
Nothing is decided at this time. Pawlenty needed a good showing to make himself a legitimate candidate and I just didn’t see it. But I think Cain and Paul showed that they belong in the debates. Paul we knew about. But his was Herman Cain’s coming out party.
Predicting an election 18 months out is a fool’s game. But looking over the current field — last night’s five plus Gingrich, Romney, Huckabee, Huntsman, Bolton, Palin, Bachmann (I’m assuming Trump will drop out at financial disclosure time), I’ll take a stab at prediction and preference. Right now, my preference is for Gary Johnson. My prediction is still that it will be Romney.
Now if only they could have gotten “The Rent is Too Damn High” candidate out there. (Yes, he’s running for the GOP nomination. Seriously.) Wouldn’t it be awesome to see him go up against Trump?