[This article was published in the March 14th issue of HUMAN EVENTS newspaper.]
As the NCAA college basketball tournament kicks off this week, I thought it would be a good time to divide the potential 2012 GOP presidential candidates into four regionals, and rank the top four candidates in each.
The Cloth Coat Regional
This regional consists of candidates who appeal to the “cloth coat” electorate, famously coined by Richard Nixon, as opposed to the mink coat, Rockefeller-type Republicans. Basically, these candidates—and their message—appeal to the members of the GOP electorate who will pick the candidate they think is “most like them” and will “fight for them.” Obviously, this is not quantifiable. It’s more of a “know-it-when-I see-it” metric. The challenges these candidates face, should they choose to enter the race, will be putting together an effective organization and maintaining the discipline necessary to last through a grueling campaign season.
1. Sarah Palin: She has the highest floor of any potential candidate. She will have to work the least of any candidate to assemble a fervent group of volunteers and foot soldiers on her behalf. Questions remain as to whether she can be disciplined and hire the proper field generals to transition her organization from a start-up to a potential conglomerate.
2. Mike Huckabee: He adopts the fair tax on a whim. He rails against Natalie Portman’s pregnancy and Obama’s Kenyan, anticolonial mentality while also defending Obama from what he considers to be racist attacks. He has the common touch, a great life story, and the oratorical chops to appeal to voters who would rather watch Chuck Norris than Charlie Rose.
3. Donald Trump: A rather unlikely candidate to put in this regional given his lavish lifestyle. Yet his message is very Pat Buchanan-esque. Trump has attacked the oil cartel OPEC. He has emphatically attacked China. His populist message will resonate, but can the political novice assemble an organization that will work for him instead of for a paycheck?
4. Michele Bachmann: She has a chance to draw a considerable number of cloth coat supporters to her side, but only if the first three candidates are not in the race.
The Consultant Regional
This regional consists of candidates who will have the best consultants and strategists money can buy. But currently, they lack a theme, a message, an elevator pitch, or a brand, if you will, that can positively define or make what they stand for easily identifiable in a media landscape that is becoming much more fragmented. That will be the challenge for the army of consultants and advisers these candidates will employ.
1. Mitt Romney: He will need to do more than wear Gap skinny jeans to convince voters that he is authentic. Having said that, Romney’s successful business background and his second-place finish last time around make him an early front-runner.
2. Haley Barbour: He is assembling an army of blue-chip consultants, such as Jim Dyke and Ed Goeas, and there may be more prominent rising stars who join the top levels of his operation in the coming weeks. His organization will be tactically sound, but his success will be dependent on the overarching strategy and message his people settle on.
3. Newt Gingrich: He will need consultants to impose discipline on him and to make sure the idea factory highlights his more practical ideas rather than the more outlandish ones that often make headlines. If voters can get past his personal failing, he could be a formidable candidate, especially if some other top-tier candidates such as Palin and Huckabee choose not to run.
4. Tim Pawlenty: He has the savviest new media strategists, who are ahead of the curve. But without a message, the slick packaging may not matter. Last week in Iowa, at a Faith and Freedom Coalition event, it was difficult to tell whether Pawlenty wanted to be Midwestern, Southern, or Obama when it came to his cadence and rhetoric.
The Independent Regional
This regional consists of candidates who will have to “survive and advance” through some of the early, more socially conservative caucuses and primaries. These candidates will fare strongest in open primaries, where independent voters can cross over and vote, or in blue state primaries, where Republicans tend to be more moderate than those in some of the states in the Midwest and South.
1. Mitch Daniels: He has called a truce on social issues, saying that the debt is the greatest threat to America’s well-being. He has a quiet confidence that will play very well with independent voters, but he risks being the Bill Bradley of this cycle, a wonkish candidate liked by the political intellegentsia who does not catch fire with actual primary voters.
2. Chris Christie: He has brashly said he could win the presidency, but that he is not ready to be President. He is fast becoming a darling of the media elite because of his refusing to back down from big public policy challenges, but questions remain whether his brashness that borders on anger and meanness will play well over a long period of time, even among the independent-oriented voters that would make up his core base.
3. Jon Huntsman: He may be better suited for the 2016 cycle. His emphasis on being a statesman may appeal to independents, but he will have a difficult time winning over movement conservatives during this cycle.
4. Rudy Giuliani: He will never win social conservatives and would need a coalition of moderates and liberal Republicans to triumph if he entered the race
The Wild Card Regional
This regional consists of possible candidates who have the potential of making the first-tier candidates look bad, or pushing them to be purer on fiscal or social issues.
1. Ron Paul: His supporters had the most energy during the 2008 GOP primaries. He was loathed by the GOP establishment the way firebrand Howard Dean was by the Democratic establishment. The “money bomb” on his behalf toward the end of 2007 probably gave birth to the spirit of the modern Tea Party movement. He was ahead of the curve on spending and debt issues. And Paul won’t back down on fiscal issues or his stances against foreign aid and military intervention abroad. This purity, especially in debates, will challenge other candidates in their responses, and may push some closer to his side.
2. Jim DeMint: If DeMint decides to jump in the race, his staunch record of conservatism and standing on principle will resonate with conservative activists that dominate the primaries, particularly in his home state of South Carolina. He could be a dynamic and bold contrast to more moderate candidates in the race and could position himself for a vice presidential nomination or to jump-start his standing in the 2016 sweepstakes.
3. Rick Santorum: Santorum will challenge other candidates on their social conservative laurels. He often says that while others talk about social conservatism, he has lived it.
4. Herman Cain: In a rather bland field, Cain’s ability to deliver a passionate speech and message may make some of the more robotic candidates in the race look even more wooden.