Is it 2012 yet?
What a wonderful time it is to be a Republican. Just two years ago the party was saddled with an enormously unpopular president, an economic situation that was being compared to the Great Depression and a national election they seemed doomed to lose before the contest even began. The 2008 Republican primaries lacked excitement, especially when compared to the fireworks going off in the Democratic camp. The big stories proved to be the stronger than expected showing by Mike Huckabee and the absence of any serious challenge from Rudy Giuliani. John McCain went on to capture a nomination it appeared nobody, including McCain himself, seemed to want.
Then came August 29, 2008 when the campaign took a dynamic turn. The McCain camp announced that Alaska governor Sarah Palin would be joining the ticket as the vice presidential nominee. Google was immediately put to fast work, as the entire country set out to learn who this unknown northern politician truly was. Hoping to capitalize on the discontent from Hillary Clinton’s absence on the Democratic ticket, the McCain camp made a brilliant decision. Palin’s addition immediately energized the Republican camp and some polls showed a virtual tie between the two parties. Unfortunately the momentum eventually began to fade, as the Palin and the McCain teams struggled to work together and the campaign faltered on the national stage.
So 2012 presents a new beginning for the party. They can now point the finger at the Democrats, after enduring eight years of dogged (and arguably justified) criticisms from the left. But who will lead the party forward and be the face of its reinvention? At this point there is no answer to that question. No candidate has emerged as the presumptive nominee for the next election, as often occurs in politics.
Obviously, the second place finisher from the previous primary season will likely be a strong contender once again. Mitt Romney has many of the perceived qualities of a president. As a former governor he has leadership experience. Romney has the look of a president (although it can be argued no such thing exists). He has the money to run a national campaign, and a team of people that would stand behind him. However, the question of his religion always comes up and seems to be the thing holding Romney back from national success.
Another contender whose name also emerged in the 2008 election is that of Tim Pawlenty. The Minnesota governor was widely rumoured to be the presumptive running mate for John McCain in 2008. Perhaps in any other election year that would have been the case, but 2008 was no ordinary election. Pawlenty, similarly to Romney, has the leadership experienced that is sought after in presidential candidates. He is well respected within the party and at 49 he brings youth into a party desperately seeking to improve its image. However, Pawlenty has his drawbacks as well. Quite simply he is vanilla. Pawlenty, as of yet, does not appear to have the spark that is needed to reignite the Republican machine. Perhaps as he becomes more comfortable on the national stage, that will change.
Of course there is one candidate that without question possesses the spark required to reignite the party. Her actions make it seem obvious that Sarah Palin is cleverly positioning herself for a run at the nomination for 2012. There is speculation she will announce her candidacy on February 6, 2011 (the date that would have been her mentor Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday). Either way, Palin is definitely a front runner for the nomination. She is a diehard conservative, who can bring home the right wing of the party currently being courted by the Tea Party movement. Like Pawlenty, she is young and vibrant but unlike the aforementioned candidates, arguably lacks the experience necessary to be commander in chief. In addition, recent polls on CBS news and CNN have shown her popularity with the American public to be less than stellar.
Of course there are numerous other candidates who stand a credible chance at being selected. These include Mike Huckabee, Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul (whose poll numbers are surprisingly good right now) and Bobby Jindal. In addition, Meg Whitman could be a threat. In the event her California gubernatorial campaign is not successful, she could be a credible candidate in 2012. It would not be the first time an unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor of California went on the be president (here’s to you Richard Nixon).
The bottom line is that at the Republicans have an enormous opportunity ahead of them in 2012. They also have an enormous task in choosing the candidate who can be successful for the party and help return it to the prominence it once had in the United States. If the upcoming midterm elections are any indication, there party appears to be back on track to being a credible challenger for the White House in two years.