The first thing to look at, before getting down to the strengths and weaknesses of any specific candidates, is just how terrible the 2012 field is for the Republicans overall. When it comes to the Presidency, successful candidates generally come out of sitting government officials (current governors, senators (but only first-term; the longer you spend in the Senate, the more your voting record gets diluted with compromises until your opponents can always find something to attack you with) vice-presidents, or military officials)…since McKinley, only two Presidents have gotten elected without being current office-holders when they started campaigning.
All the sitting Republican governors? They’re staying out of this. (Or at least, they are for now. There is quite a while between now and the election.) My strong suspicion is that they’re not particularly eager to tackle Obama; despite Republican claims that he’s a demonic entity from beyond our universe here to put our grandmothers to death and dragoon our children to study in madrassas, they’re actually lucid enough to realize he’s a popular, savvy campaigner with a good ground game and strong fundraising skills. So the Republican establishment, while they’d take a win if they got it, is not going to put up someone like Chris Christie up against Obama and wind up getting him tarred with the “loser” brush. They’ll save their big guns for 2016, and put a sacrificial candidate up in 2012.
Which means that there are exactly two kinds of people running; people who are too dumb to realize/don’t care that they are a sacrificial candidate, or people whose only chance at any kind of relevance is to run now. I don’t see any of them as having much luck against Obama (although again, there is a while between now and the elections.) But who will take the nomination? Well, let’s look at them one by one!
Strengths: Background as an ordained minister puts him as the front-runner among the religious right; Deputy Dawg-esque appearance and folksy, homespun demeanor lulls people into not noticing what an asshole he is
Weaknesses: Gave clemency to a man who went on to kill four cops, which is a little bit out of step with the “Law and Order” party; looks like he’s about one pair of bib overalls away from a recurring role on “Hee-Haw”; nobody named “Huckabee” ever has a chance of being President ever
Chances: From the sound of things, Huckabee’s smart enough to realize he’s better off sitting this one out; he’s not making much of a move towards campaigning, and he certainly doesn’t need to run to stay in the public spotlight. But he might make a run at it, just to see if he can pick up momentum in Iowa, a state that likes him, and translate it into a strong showing elsewhere.
Strengths: Strong fundraising skills; desperately wants to be President; good hair
Weaknesses: Has to explain how his RomneyCare is completely and totally different from ObamaCare while explaining how Obama stole all his ideas; desperately wants to be President; religious affiliation with a group that has, on occasion, talked about how they will “dance on the ashes of our enemies” when they get a Mormon to the Presidency has made some people slightly leery; has difficulty door-knocking due to people pretending not to be home when he shows up, forcing him to just leave his literature for them to read later
Chances: Very good, actually. He’s not particularly well-liked by the Republican establishment, but he’s also not particularly disliked, and he has an aura of respectability to him that a lot of strategic-thinking primary voters will mistake for electability. He won’t win against Obama because he’s got the same problem Hilary Clinton had–his naked hunger for the office turns off voters, who at least like their potential President to pretend like they don’t ache for it.
Strengths: There are still a few Republicans dumb/sexist enough to believe that if they vote for her, there’s a chance she might sleep with them
Weaknesses: Most people are beginning to catch on to what a vapid, corrupt, petty, spiteful, intellectually incurious, vindictive, greedy, dimwitted, dishonest, crazy asshole she actually is
Chances: Zero. She’s going to make a token run, because she’s an utter fame-whore and she only has two ways to get on the media’s radar now that she’s no longer an actual politician, and criticizing Obama for everything he says or does is starting to get stale. Running for President extends the timer on her fifteen minutes of fame, but she doesn’t have the organizational skills, establishment connections, or real desire for a sustained run. Expect her to drop out the first time she loses a primary, citing negative remarks about her and a need to protect her children from the harshness of a political campaign.
Strengths: Is as close to an intellectual as a Republican gets; has a Nixonian ability to go for the jugular; believes that like Nixon, he’s been out of politics long enough that people have forgotten why he wound up out of politics
Weaknesses: Has never stood for national office before; has spent so long exclusively in the company of people who agree with him that he doesn’t actually realize that most Americans wouldn’t piss on him if he was on fire; is named “Newt” (see “Huckabee”, above)
Chances: Not great. He is popular among Republicans, and he does have a lot of favors he can cash in from the Republican establishment, but his habit of impulsive speech will get him into trouble at least once and remind primary voters of his downsides. Expect him to hang around for a while if he does go for it, though; Newt isn’t one to admit defeat easily.
Strengths: Actually has strong convictions and an intellectually-coherent position, albeit one that supports child labor, the return of the gold standard and the right of Texas to secede from the United States
Weaknesses: Anti-war candidate in a party that might well beat him to death with a blunt instrument for it before realizing he’s on their side; among people that think of Rush Limbaugh as the Voice of Mainstream America, is kind of viewed as “a little bit out there”
Chances: None and then some. Among the people who love him, he’s very well loved; unfortunately, that’s a very vocal five percent of the Republican party. He tanked in 2008, and I really can’t see him doing better with four more years under his belt. It might not stop him, though; he’s the perfect definition of a sacrificial candidate, someone who runs just for the bigger soapbox and nothing more.
Strengths: Lack of charisma makes him seem deceptively reasonable; can claim he balanced the budget in Minnesota for eight years without raising taxes, knowing nobody cares enough about Minnesota to find out how he did it
Weaknesses: Couldn’t deliver Minnesota to McCain…in the Republican primary; best known to most Americans as “that guy who let the bridge collapse, right?”
Chances: Low, but not impossible. His habit of tacking hard-right to show his Tea Party credentials makes him seem more “craven and desperate” than “strongly conservative”, but he’s got enough legitimate conservative street cred to avoid seeming like an opportunist like Romney. Which, in a tie between the two “staid white guys with no charisma”, might be enough to pull him ahead.
Strengths: …hahahahahahahahaha! Oh, you’re serious? Um, he’s rich enough to pay for his own attack ads instead of having to ask big corporations to do it
Weaknesses: The hair; the personality; has no political experience; has no campaigning experience; the hair; has donated as much money to Democrats as to Republicans; like most self-funded candidates, has a platform primarily geared towards restructuring the tax laws in a way that benefits him personally; Americans can’t shake the lingering suspicion that he’s only running so that he can rename the White House “The Trump House”; the hair
Chances: Less than none. I don’t actually expect him to run, to be honest; this is another publicity stunt, like “The Apprentice” or his appearance on WWF Raw or his naming everything after himself. Expect him to drop it after about six weeks.