GOP 2012 Rankings, Updated 3/1/10

 I’ve been doing these rankings every two months since right after the last Presidential election (here's the last one), and every two months I get a bunch of messages about how Ron Paul is obviously going to win the GOP nomination, and how I’m obviously an idiot or part of the vast anti-Paul conspiracy.

I expect those messages to increase in number and self-assurance now, thanks to Paul’s first-place finish in the Presidential Straw Poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

But I’m still not putting him on the list. Paul is not going to be the nominee. But, you know, feel free to send those messages.

CPAC was one of the big things that happened since my last rankings. What was most interesting to me about CPAC was the optimism. You wouldn’t know that the GOP is almost completely out of power at the national level, and that the party’s biggest state-level elected officials (Schwarzenegger, Crist) have repudiated movement conservatives like those at CPAC.

Instead, they seem really jazzed up that conservative politics is back in ascendance, and that we’re heading toward a big November for Republicans, and conservative candidates especially.

If that turns out to be true, I imagine there will be quickly be intense interest in the 2012 nomination process -- perhaps giving a boost to movement favorites like Mike Pence, who would need to raise money for a run via Internet "money bomb" drives.

But what if 2010 doesn't turn out so well -- and especially if conservatives do poorly? That might deflate some of the exuberance, while also reinforcing GOP insiders' desire to promote an 'electable' candidate. Or, at least a 'not disastrous' candidate.

Anyway, on to the new rankings. Same top two, but a lot of movement below -- and four new or returning names! Previous ranking is in parentheses.

1) Tim Pawlenty, Governor of Minnesota. East Coast urban sophisticates saw Pawlenty’s CPAC speech as uninspiring. I saw it as perfect for Iowa. Hey, you know who else was no good at delivering a slick, rousing, barn-burner of a stump speech? Every Republican Presidential nominee of the last quarter-century, that’s who. (1)

2) Mike Pence, US Representative from Indiana. He’s been making it pretty darn clear that he intends to run for President. He wouldn’t consider going for Senate even after Evan Bayh called it quits. Question is, does it help or hurt him if the GOP really does take over the House majority? (2)

3) Rick Perry, Governor of Texas. The gubernatorial primary tomorrow, which was supposed to be a blockbuster clash of titans, is instead just a question of whether Perry will get 50%, or go on to pummel Kay Bailey Hutchison in a run-off. The ease of his apparent victory allows him to pivot back toward center -- well, towards somewhere in shouting distance of center -- for the general election. (4)

4) Jim DeMint, US Senator from South Carolina. DeMint was not on the CPAC Straw Poll ballot, which means he didn’t lobby to have his name on it, which may mean he’s not thinking of running. Or, maybe he just doesn’t want to be talked about as a Presidential candidate -- but nothing about him suggests he’s capable of such clever thinking. On the other hand, Marc Ambinder just declared DeMint his 2012 dark horse, and Ambinder doesn’t just make these things up out of the blue. (3)

5) Haley Barbour, Governor of Mississippi. Since taking over for Mark Sanford as chair of the Republican Governors Association, Barbour has been raising money at a faster clip than even Mitt Romney did as RGA chair. He’s also won a couple of elections for the party, which is better than Romney did there. But more importantly, Barbour offered himself up for my patented Al Gore Indicator of Presidential interest, telling the press that “If you see me losing 40 pounds, that means I’m either running or have cancer.” (7)

6) Mitch Daniels, Governor of Indiana. He’s moved quickly from the ‘what, me, aw shucks, never’ phase to the ‘leaving the option open’ phase. Republicans looking for a non-deranged candidate are starting to talk openly about him, as Russ Douthat does today in his Times column. (9)

7) John Thune, US Senator from South Dakota. His name was on the CPAC ballot, which is more important than whether he got any votes. Watch for him to get more active nationally if no Democrat files to run against him this year by the March 30 deadline. (5)

8) Mitt Romney, former Governor from Massachusetts. He’s off and running, touring the country for his new book. (See my article and review.) But as I wrote, I’m skeptical that he can put a winning strategy together. (6)

9) Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives. Newt is insisting in interviews that people take seriously the idea of him running for President. At this rate, I think he may back himself into actually running. At CPAC, he was the only speaker to enter not from backstage, but from the back of the hall, so that he could wade through the adoring crowd, like Rocky walking to the ring. Then he gave a hysterical -- in both senses of the word -- speech about how far America has descended into tyranny. (8)

10) Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida. Slowly moving up, moving up... (11)

11) Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana. I still don’t see how he can do it if he’s also running for re-election in 2011, but now I’m thinking he might not really run for re-election. (14)

12) Bob Corker, US Senator from Tennessee. Corker came away from the big health care summit as “the rational Republican.” Comparatively, of course. (16)

13) John Kasich, former US Congressman from Ohio. GOP insiders tell me there is great interest in a 2010 candidate for governor or Senator catching fire and running for the big seat in ’12 -- and they say that Kasich is the guy everyone’s watching. Right now, they’re watching Kasich trailing in the polls to Democratic incumbent Ted Strickland. (--)

14) Sarah Palin, former Governor of Alaska. Her palm-written notes at the Tea Party Convention earned some lamestream-media mocking, but the Obama-bashing speech itself convinced some serious people that she’s running in 2012. I’m still skeptical, but I’ll move her up a little. But, could someone explain to her that’s not what people mean by ‘talk to the hand’? (18)

15) Dan Quayle, former Vice President. I ran this one up the flagpole last time, and nobody laughed. Since then, his son Ben declared himself a candidate for Congress in Arizona. (15)

16) Luis Fortuno, Governor of Puerto Rico. After he debuted on this list two months ago, he suddenly got embroiled in a huge messy debate involving rum. Apparently Fortuno is pissed that Captain Morgan’s is going to be made in the Virgin Islands instead of Puerto Rico, and now Bacardi is pissed, and frankly I don’t know what the hell is going on but it’s way more interesting than what the other people on this list are doing. (12)

17) Jon Kyl, US Senator from Arizona. I’m not seeing it. (13)

18) Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas. The Gore Waistline Indicator is still skeptical of Huckabee, but I keep hearing that his operatives are acting like he’s going to run. He took a potshot at CPAC (which I give him credit for), but I’m not sure how he plans to expand his base.  (17)

19) Marco Rubio, former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. Rubiomania still in effect. They loved him at CPAC! (22)

20) Eric Cantor, US Representative from Virginia. Cantor seemed unbelievably silly and irrelevant in the big health care summit. Everything he touches seems to fail. Am I crazy, or is he perfectly situated to rise to Speaker for the GOP at some point? (10)

21) Jeff Sessions, US Senator from Alabama. Got mentioned by polisci prof John Tures and talk-radio loon Michael Savage, so why not? (--)

22) Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State. She popped into view, endorsing Meg Whitman in California. Re-start the Draft Condi engines! (--)

23) Jon Huntsman, US Ambassador to China. I took him off the list when he took off to the other side of the world, but Ambinder (see above) and others claim he’s still interested in 2012. Not sure how that’s supposed to work, but OK. (--)

24) George Pataki, former governor of New York. Looks better and better in comparison with subsequent NY guvs. (23)

25) Rick Santorum, former US Senator from Pennsylvania. Heading to South Carolina. I’m sure they’re excited to have him. (19)

Dropping off the list: Kay Bailey Hutchison, Paul Ryan, Dirk Kempthorne, Chuck Grassley

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