Robert Bolton’s essay presents a fairly complete analysis for the 2012 presidential election, marking out some of the forerunners for the Republican nomination and explaining the actions they will likely take as they attempt to retake the presidency from Barack Obama, who is almost guaranteed to win the Democratic nomination.
It is a common maxim that a politician’s reelection campaign begins the day after he wins the general election. Nowhere is this truer than in presidential politics. President Barack Obama, barring some catastrophe or national scandal of unprecedented scale, will easily cruise along to gain the Democratic nomination for a second term. Therefore, the focus in this election cycle has turned towards the Republicans. There are numerous steps on the road to nomination. The first, and certainly most important, is to market oneself as a viable candidate. Among the rising stars in the party, questions arose whether or not they will decide to run. For some, like John Thune, Bobby Jindal, and Chris Christie, the answer has been a strong “no” after the press spent months asking. Others, like Ron Paul, Herman Cain, or Michelle Bachmann have almost no chance at winning the nomination, but often run for the sake of highlighting an issue of particular to concern to them.
The next step after testing the political waters are formal actions, such as forming a political action committee (or PACs for short) and launching a presidential exploratory committee. These help to establish the staff, fundraising network, and media resources necessary to run a modern campaign. So far, almost all the most noticeable candidates have PACs, but only a few have ventured as far as an exploratory committee. However, that should change in the next few months. Once this step is undertaken, it is almost a guarantee they are serious about running.
After going through the necessary motions of humility and consideration, the candidates must focus on turning themselves into a brand appealing to a majority of voters, but also maintaining loyalty from the voters within their own party. Candidates like Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum remain extraordinarily popular with certain segments of their party, but also hold such high disapproval ratings as to render them toxic in a general election. Other candidates, like Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, or Newt Gingrich, are recognized as intelligent men, but are also either largely unknown or have been out of the political spotlight for a long time. The way they make up for this is by recruiting the smartest people for their staffs, visiting areas with early primaries frequently, and campaigning for other candidates in the midterm elections. The final brands of candidates are the Donald Trumps or Jeb Bushes of the party. These figures may be recognized as successes in their own fields, but are largely touted for the amusement of the public or by accolades from the party faithful.
The two candidates best positioned at this point to win the nomination are Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. Since 1952, the presidential nominee for the Republican Party has been the incumbent, a vice president, or the man who placed second in the last contested nomination cycle. The only two exceptions to this are Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Governor George W. Bush in 2000. Of the two today, Mitt Romney has been the more active in working for the nomination, but also must surmount concerns over his Mormon faith and perceived policy changes since his time as Governor of Massachusetts. Mike Huckabee, on the other hand, has maintained his profile through a television show on Fox News, but must deal with some voters’ perceptions of his brand of evangelical Christianity.
No matter who runs and eventually wins, there are a few things certain at this time. Over the next few months, more potential candidates will openly declare their intent to run, and there will be a wave of scandals that scuttle some contenders early in the process. Fundraising and trips to Iowa and New Hampshire will be more visible, and campaign staffs will grow in size. President Obama has the advantage of incumbency and can campaign fully against the Republican ticket, no matter who is nominated, without having to suppress his own rivals. With a Republican House of Representatives now also lightening the burden of governing responsibility, the president has the advantage. It will take hard work, a poor economy, and a good deal of luck if any Republican wants to surmount these challenges.