The politerati are all a-flutter. Why are there no GOP presidential candidates yet? There sure are plenty -- it seems like dozens -- of 2012 wannabes. But so far not one of the conventional possible contenders (probable or improbable) have officially tossed a hat (or checkbook) into the ring.
By this point in the 2008 campaign, much of the Democratic and Republican field was in place -- or close to it. John Edwards (remember him?) announced his run for the presidency on Dec. 26, 2006, at an event with kids in flood-ravaged New Orleans. Hillary Rodham Clinton lifted off with a Web video
posted on Jan. 20, 2007 (two years prior to the next inauguration day). Barack Obama began his campaign with a speech in frosty Springfield, Illinois, on Feb. 10. On the GOP side, Mike Huckabee took the plunge on "Meet the Press" on Jan. 28, 2007. Mitt Romney started his engine with an announcement in Michigan on Feb. 13. John McCain, who had been running since he lost to George W. Bush in the 2000 Republican primaries, informally gave the thumbs-up on David Letterman's show on Feb. 28, 2007.
This week, Romney appeared on "Letterman" and tried to hide his hand, claiming he had "no plans for"
another presidential bid "at this point." Oh, the things politicians say. Of course, he has plans. In fact, he has an assortment of political action committees
cooking up these plans and spreading contributions about to set up his presidential bid. Romney has signaled no ambivalence about wanting to become the CEO of the USA.
So why the slow (official) start-up for him and the others? I think I know who to blame: Sarah Palin.
She's the 800-pound grizzly. If she enters the race -- and don't ask me to wager one way or another on whether she will -- she will become the gravitational center of the contest. It's impossible to game anything out without knowing if she's a candidate. And with her appeal to grassroots social conservatives, who dominate two of the three early primaries, she probably can get away with not joining the race until late in the process. (In fact, it might be to her advantage to sit out the initial debates and then proclaim, "I haven't heard anyone say what's needing to be said, so, heck, guess I gotta run for this thing myself.")
With a field that could well include 10 or more candidates, any designated front-runner will also be the designated pinata -- attacked from all directions. Why would Romney want to be in that position any longer than necessary -- especially while Palin ducks such attacks, racking up speaking fees, pontificating on Fox News, issuing Facebook proclamations, and having the media hang on every tweet she dispatches? He's better off playing it coy, while raising mucho bucks and putting an operation into place. Besides, with Obama on a decent roll these days, does Romney want to have to address every White House move? An official, front-running candidate would be expected to do so. As a not-yet-official aspirant, he can decide when to poke at the president and when not to.
Huckabee has a similar problem. In a Palinated presidential contest, he and the former half-term Alaska governor would be competing for the same social conservatives. Huckabee won many of these primary voters in 2008. But the slogging will be tougher if he's up against the Queen of the Tea Party. His chances are far more affected by the P-factor than those of the other possible candidates.
And Huckabee has to worry about cash flow. Not his campaign's -- his own. In December, the Arkansas Times reported
that he and his wife are building a $3 million home in a Florida beach development, with a $2.5 million mortgage. With such a financial burden, he probably doesn't want to give up his day job as a Fox News personality. Not too soon, at least.
Other possible GOP candidates are probably waiting to announce because they're not going to announce. But the longer they don't announce, the more publicity they will receive. Put Rep. Michele Bachmann and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton in this category. Newt Gingrich might also be a presidential teaser who's just after the attention. Former advisers to Gingrich tell me that they think he's actually going to jump in. But can a fellow who dumped not one but two wives when they were ill truly win the nomination of the purported party of family values? (Richard Land, a prominent religious right leader, put it
this way: "Two ex-wives is one ex-wife too many for most evangelicals.")
As for some of the others -- Mitch Daniels, John Thune, Haley Barbour, Rick Santorum -- it's hard to figure out what's taking so long. (Jon Huntsman just resigned as U.S. ambassador to China to enter the presidential guessing game, but can a GOPer who spent two years working for Obama and who has supported civil unions for gays and lesbians and cap-and-trade climate legislation be a credible candidate in a tea partied GOP?) And there's Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota -- he seems serious about a run, but with his low name recognition, he should have announced last summer. Any of these folks feeling cold in the feet?
Finally, why is Palin, who has turned her entire life into a reality show that earns millions, taking so long to decide? To ask the question that way is to answer it. But maybe it's also because she realizes that when it comes to the GOP presidential bus, she can sit anywhere she wants to.
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