So you say you don't like Mitt Romney? He's a two-timing dirty lying flip-flopping elitist rich establishment RINO politician who believes in only one thing - someone with the last name of Romney deserves to be president, and his dad was ROBBED! But how to stop him when you haven't settled on an alternative? The answer, my friends, is found in consolidation. It's Mitt Romney's worst nightmare. Right now, he'd love to continue playing conservative candidates against each other, promoting unelectable candidates, etc. His only path to victory is to split the other 75% of Republicans so much that he can squeak by with 25% comprised of the establishment and their unwitting dupes. You want to stop him? Time to cut the dead weight. Several tiers of candidates have emerged, with varying reasons for their support, or lack of it. Let's start at the bottom, and work our way up.
The Invisible Candidates:
Gary Johnson and Buddy Roemer are not even registering enough to be invited to debates. If they were being polled, I'm not sure if they are now. Real Clear Politics doesn't include them in its poll averages. Johnson is easy to explain. He's a libertarian pro-choicer, and any support he might have had is currently tied up with Ron Paul. He is not running to be president. He is running to inherit Paul's following when Paul, um, retires. At Paul's age, it won't be long. Is he still in the race? Nobody will even notice when he drops out.
Roemer has been doing his best to get some media attention, but appearing on all the left wing shows and embracing #OWS doesn't seem to be yielding dividends in the GOP primary. He too is not running for president, but rather to promote a single issue, getting money out of politics. He makes a great point, but ultimately that will not be enough to get him elected president. As the other major candidates either support the principle of corporate bailouts or are knee deep in corporate cash, I expect him to endorse Newt Gingrich soon.
Clearly, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman are in a close race for last place. Rarely does either ever poll above 2%. It is readily apparent that neither of these men will win the nomination, much less be president. The reason for this is that they are the candidates at either fringe of the Republican electorate. Huntsman, obviously, is on the extreme left of the party. He identified himself closely with Obama by working in his administration, and shrewd move or not on Obama's part, it was still Huntsman's decision to accept the ambassadorship to China. He takes many left wing positions, and although he has shown a glimmer of brillance on the economy, it is not enough. The GOP, especially in the age of the Tea Party and grassroots activism, is way too conservative for someone like Huntsman. That said, he's the one candidate that you should be doing everything to support. Why? Because any support he gains comes at "Mr. Inevitable" Romney's expense.
Santorum, on the other hand, is on the opposite side of the party. While everyone is clamoring for someone to fix the economy, he is trying to run on pure social conservatism and bomb-throwing condescension. He's a candidate for another time, and Republicans have grown weary of his antics. Time for him to go, and relinquish his 2% to someone with a realistic shot at winning.
This is where Michele Bachmann finds herself in the polls. With a once promising Iowa straw poll win, she hasn't quite faded into oblivion yet. But as it has become increasingly obvious that she is not prepared to be president, all but the most dedicated have moved on. Bachmann is on the borderline of being considered an issue candidate. She is clearly running on rigid platform of evangelical orthodoxy on social issues and the Tea Party ideal of shrinking the size of the federal government. The problem is that she hasn't really articulated how to practically enact those ideals, and she's left herself open to the charge that she either doesn't have the ability to do so or just doesn't see the need. The only thing that would indicate she is attempting anything more than to promote these issues or gain a cabinet seat in Romney's administration is her vigorous attempt at fundraising - probably the only reason she's still at 5%. Michele Bachmann is not a serious candidate for president. She needs to be cut so her supporters can move on to someone who will actually criticize Romney instead of playing into his divide-and-conquer strategy.
These are candidates which have managed to amass a substantial following and/or big war chests, but are not viable candidates. They especially need to go so we can get on to the main event. Rick Perry is not ready for prime time. Although he managed, through some adept back room dealing and pay-for-play politics at its worst, to maintain an iron grip on the state of Texas for a decade, he has no longer been able to conceal his faults on the national stage. With a carefully crafted media image and a reputation for doling out favors to corporations in his good graces, he managed to roll out his campaign in a way so as to skyrocket in the polls and rake in a huge haul of cash. But as the campaign season has worn on his absolute lack of intelligence and seriousness has become apparent in the debates. The antsy boy scout can barely stammer out the soundbites his handlers have prepared for him. He's an empty suit propped up by the permanent political class. His rapid descent in the polls equals or surpasses his rapid rise. He only ran in the first place because his unhappy wife wanted a higher station in life, and now that she sees her chances to supplant Michelle as QUEEN OF THE WORLD dashed, she's lashing out at all those Christian-haters in the GOP for her husband's weaknesses. Slick Rick is burning out as fast as he started. While his massive war chest might allow him to ride his agonizing defeat all the way to the bitter end, I have a feeling his wife will have had enough much earlier. Only a few duped Texans are sticking around to witness the tragic spectacle.
The other second tier candidate is Ron Paul. Ron Paul, like Perry, is another Texan who has amassed a significant following and a good amount of money. More importantly, the money comes from a highly dedicated following and will keep flowing. In every other respect, though, Paul is the polar opposite of Perry. While Perry's problems stem from the pay-to-play culture he thrives in and his phoniness when it comes to being a conservative, Ron Paul's fatal flaw is that he is perhaps too honest, given some of his conspiratorial ramblings. While everybody loves his economic prescription and dedication to the Constitution, many of Paul's other positions have put him far outside the mainstream GOP. In some respects, this makes him an issue candidate, although the "Rlov3ution" he has put together points to a serious campaign, however futile. In fact, some recent polls have him tied with Bachmann at 5%. Still, it is unlikely that his guerrilla army would ever let him drop out or back someone else. The best course of action regarding Paul is to let him do his thing so as to keep his young devotees happy, but to attempt to persuade more serious voters to find a viable alternative to big government Romney.
To make it into the first tier, you have to be someone who has the skills to do the job of president, someone who can go toe to toe with Obama on the issues, and someone who has a workable strategy to actually win the nomination. Money and organization, or the potential to rapidly develop them, are key. The 1st tier candidates are the ones that lesser candidates will eventually endorse. Obviously, Herman Cain and Mitt Romney are challenging each other for the front runner spot, and each have strengths and weaknesses I'll get into in a moment. Some may wonder, though, why I put Newt Gingrich in the first tier. There are actually a number of good reasons why he stands a decent chance of breaking out late. First, Newt Gingrich is smart. I mean truly genius, in every sense of the word. He's not just book smart, but alley cat smart too. And he has an actual record of fixing an economy. He is a walking brain, and he has been putting it to good use in securing the nomination. Although his campaign started out rough, with a few gaffes and some loss of staff, Gingrich has slowly been picking up steam since then with his debate performances. In a brilliant move, Gingrich, no doubt influenced by his knowledge of history, chose to run a very unorthodox, non-establishment, grassroots campaign, despite being a former Speaker of the House. This has pundits laughingly dismissing him as a washed up oddity from the 90's. Not so. Just as the Reagan revolution followed Carter, a grassroots awakening, fueled by Tea Party activism, has developed in the age of Obama. Shrewdly, Gingrich has distanced himself from a campaign tied to the big money establishment and the permanent political class they fund, and has instead opted to run on ideas, charisma, and novel grassroots approaches such as building a giant social media following via twitter. And he has used this following, coupled with his debate performances, to disseminate his brilliant ideas. Not only that, but he has carefully positioned himself against TARP, for auditing and reforming the Fed, and against bureaucrats like Bernanke wielding massive power in secret. He has offered limited support for #OccupyWallStreet sympathizers struggling to make ends meet in this economy. He understands that there is a populist resentment of big guys rigging the system, and he has intentionally positioned himself to pick up where Palin left off with crony capitalism. And that is why you can't count him out, despite his supposed "personal baggage". (Anybody remember Clinton's re-election? It's the economy, stupid.) Though at the moment he is deeply in debt and doesn't have much of a campaign organization to speak of, he has slowly been rising in the polls, now in third place, and stands to inherit much of Palin's former support which can't quite stomach Cain's allegiance to big business.
Which brings us to Cain, perhaps the most underestimated candidate of the 2012 election cycle. Cain not having the experience typical of presidential candidates these days, the establishment wrote him off completely. Although maybe not rising to the level of Gingrich's brilliance, Herman Cain is fairly intelligent, and more importantly, very street smart. I can't tell you how many times I've seen an impossibly difficult trap laid for him by the media from which he somehow escapes unscathed. (Romney is good at this too.) Many people think there's no way that Cain's "boomlet" will last, and this is of course the narrative that most other campaigns are pushing. However, there is good reason to doubt their supposed wisdom. First, Cain is not actually all that inexperienced. Yes, he has forty years of executive experience in business and people are looking for a non-politician. But I'm not just talking about that. Herman Cain has run for president before in 2000 (he dropped out when Bush entered the race). He ran, albeit unsuccessfully, for senate in Georgia in 2004. He was the chairman of the federal reserve branch in Kansas City. So he's no stranger to politics and government. Moreover, his training as a mathematician and a businessman has a allowed him to put together a massive machine that the establishment still hasn't fully grasped. First, he has some ties to the Koch brothers and Americans For Prosperity, including his campaign chairman. In fact, he worked for AFP from 2005-2011. His natural charisma and conservatism has made him a Tea Party favorite, giving him access to vast organizational networks. He has been able to leverage these connections, through his national campaign strategy, into a massive operation which is raising a million or so a week, and he will have no shortage of volunteers as his campaign picks up steam. The full brunt of this juggernaut will descend upon Iowa in the month or two ahead of the caucuses, and Mitt Romney will probably find himself blown away by Cain's strength there and increasingly in NH. This, despite Cain not having campaigned there much in the wake of a few staff kerfuffles a while back. A masterful win in Iowa followed by a strong second place showing in NH (or even winning it outright!) could set up a knockout punch in SC. Cain does have some downsides including supporting the concept of TARP and not seeing a problem with the Fed. Despite the 9-9-9 plan being more widely supported than the other campaigns would have you believe (simple, fair, and the deficit does need to be reduced somehow), the imposition of a massive national sales tax may cause some heartburn. It would probably need to be tweaked with rebates for low income voters and seniors, which would take away from its simplicity. His hard line on abortion will play great in the primary but may turn off independent voters, decreasing his electability. His big business ties may leave some skeptical that he'll represent the people over the special interests, but he has a good comeback by describing himself as a "Main street" instead of a "Wall Street" executive like Romney. (Come to think of it, didn't they both turn around companies by laying people off?) However, as far as the anti-Romney, he's the person with the strongest organization and best shot to take him down right now. Ultimately, conservative voters will need to make a choice between Cain and Gingrich if they wish to defeat Romney. In this age of engaged conservatism, GOP voters may be paying enough attention to make a tactical choice to support whoever is ahead come December or January so as not to split the anti-Romney vote.
Ah, Romney. The politician's politician. The guy who is able to rake you over the coals and convince you he's doing you a favor. His strategy is to simply wait out the rest of the field, and prove that he's the only one who can beat Obama. It seems strange, after the 2008 election, that he would double down on McCain's failed strategy of flip flopping, pandering, and dividing the conservative vote against him. Perhaps that is why his support is capped at 25%. Perhaps winning the nomination is more important to him than winning the presidency. The funny thing? He doesn't care. He'll tell you there are plenty of reasons not to vote for him. He just thinks that he can raise enough money, use his connections to push caucuses around, essentially game the system completely, in order to win. It's like he's laughing at you saying "Hey look what I can do. I can win the nomination and it has nothing to do with ideology. Despite your best efforts, I've rigged the system and there's nothing you can do about it." Well, it's time for conservatives who can't tolerate this blatant abuse of the system to start thinking strategically in order to defeat him. He's running on tactics, not ideas, and as such must be defeated in that venue. We must ensure that a viable alternative, either Cain or Gingrich, winds up with 35+% of the vote and has the resources and ability to win early primaries and caucuses. This is why it's time to amputate all of the minor candidates so we can get down to the business of putting together a top notch operation to thwart Romney's evil designs.