CPAC has come to a close, so I thought it might be a good time to review the Republican field related to the primary and general election cycles. After all, for the party leaders (Obama, Reid, Pelosi, Kaine, Soros, etc. vs. Boehner, McConnell, Rove, Priebus?, Koch brothers) the next two years are not about addressing little things like the nation's problems. They are about the 2012 Presidential election cycle and shaping the two years after that.
Click here for detailed data on the CPAC Straw Poll (which we all know is extremely limited). Quick thoughts on the poll respondents- their average age is at least half that of the Republican party electorate, but many are similar to the Tea Party in favoring addressing government fiscal issues first. The Tea Party still seems to be driving source of energy for Republicans, so perhaps if we discount the Ron Paul and Gary Johnson (a libertarian ex-Governor who attracts the same sliver of the Republican party) vote this straw poll isn't completely useless.
Obviously Ron Paul's dead in the water (Gary Johnson as well- while he is less famous than Paul, this means that he has fewer supporters to go along with the fewer haters that he has compared to Ron has among Republicans.).
Romney still seems to be the front-runner- which is a problem because he's actually LESS exciting than watching paint dry. Romney is a perfectly solid candidate and would probably make a solid President- and in different cycles he'd actually do well because he's SO classically Presidential. Unfortunately he's running against Obama, who has deep reservoirs of strength and personal popularity with Americans even as they (including many independents and moderates) hate his policies. Obama has a great back-story, a picturesque family, and is an extremely talented speaker. While elections are almost entirely determined by the economy, Obama has enough pizazz factor to give him some breathing room (several points at least) among independent voters, which he'll need with nearly everyone (CBO, Bernanke, etc.) predicting 8% unemployment in 2012. While she says some of the most spiteful and ridiculous things, Ann Coulter is actually cold-blooded enough to frequently make realistic evaluations of Republicans, and at CPAC she noted "If you don't run Chris Cristie, Romney will be the nominee and we'll lose." (see video at 9:30). I suspect that she's referring to the fact that going up against someone like Obama with a closely divided electorate, you need someone with wow factor to energize your base (getting them to vote) and attract media attention which captures undecided voters. Also, Romney is a Mormon and RomneyCare=ObamaCare.
So that takes us to Christie (or another governor with umph factor- Rick Perry). Both have disavowed running. Christie has only been governor for one year (no foreign policy experience- foreign policy conservatives and independents care about this a lot), does not adequately satisfy social conservatives, and is starting to encounter the difficulties of actually governing a state in shambles (which will be a drag on his popularity as he inevitably makes decisions that irritate conservatives and moderates- not just liberals). While both are liked in a "he's feisty" kind of way, I'm not sure Americans would vote for presidential candidates so partisan and lacking in civility.
Gingrich- old news!!! Why doesn't he just go away? Plus he's not trusted on personal issues (divorces, being generally slimy, etc.)
Bachmann/Palin. While they are both exciting, attract media attention, and motivate the base, their policy views and perceived (which may or may not be true) lack of substance means that independents and moderates will flock to Obama. Even if they dislike Obama, he doesn't strike them as crazy! At the same time the liberal base will motivate like crazy against people they consider to be she-devils.
Pawlenty. Seems like a Romney 2.0- solid moderate state governor without the Mormon and RomneyCare flaws. However, he looks a little less Presidential than Romney and even with months of hard, if unofficial campaigning, he still isn't attracting a ton of support among Republicans. Also, he has minimal name recognition among politically uninformed voters, which is a problem because they are often the undecided, independent voters who determine close elections.
Mitch Daniels. Thought to be great on fiscal issues and good governance, which is actually false- he was George W. Bush's OMB director which means he oversaw probably the worst deterioration in the United States' fiscal situation in history. This sin is so unforgivable that even some Republican fiscal hawks are cool to him. While loved by inside-the-Beltway conservatives desperate for an intellectual Republican leader, he has already received heated opposition from social conservatives. I'd have thought he would do well among the young, fiscal conservatives at CPAC- he did so poorly even there that I question his viability. He also does not look like a President.
Huckabee- a big question mark. He might not want to run since it's so demanding and fiscally draining (have to give up millions from Fox News), but if he did he'd do very well in Iowa and elsewhere among Republicans. He's someone who I think could win, and poll numbers support this as he often polls second after Romney or fairing well in matchups against Obama. The question is how well he'd do among moderate/independents- sometimes Huckabee says crazy stuff like making offensive religious pronouncements (a trait exacerbated by the Republican electorate) which would turn off many undecided voters.
Herman Cain/Rick Santorum: one-issue group, no-name, no chance candidates.
Thune- kind of boring but photogenic. Does well on every issue type for Republicans. However, he recently got good committee assignments so he might decide to say in the Senate. He's a darkhorse who would need other candidates to implode and allow him to rally support from other groups as their second-favorite candidate.
Huntsman- another Romney 2.0, but this time he served in the Obama administration. I don't see how he does well among Republicans.
Barbour- an exciting candidate who, like Huckabee or Bachmann, says offensive things and, like Christie, may strike people as slimy due to his lobbyist-background. Also, he does not look like a President, and doesn't do well among social conservatives. And he might not run.
In conclusion, while it's extremely early (probably too early to really know the factors that will determine who wins), I think Romney or Huckabee look good by default for the nomination. I know- unoriginal prediction. Obama looks good for the Presidency by default, kind of like 2004 when Bush won partly because Kerry was such an awful nominee.