Political Animal


January 10, 2012 8:40 AM Quite a field

By Steve Benen

Reader F.B. flagged an interesting exchange on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” yesterday in which Joe Scarborough passed along assessments of the Republican presidential field from veteran political journalists. Here’s the clip:

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Folks who’ve been covering politics for 40 years told Scarborough, “‘This is the worst field.’ …This is the weakest field they’ve seen, by far. Not even a close second.” Mike Barnicle added, “It used to be up here, there was a libertarian candidate, Lyndon LaRouche and you’d cover him for comic relief…. Now you can cover almost the entire Republican field for comic relief.”

That’s cruel, but it’s not inaccurate.

GOP voters have noticed, too. A new CBS News poll found that only 37% of self-identified Republicans are satisfied with their current choices — and the number of Republicans who want more choices is going up, not down, as the process continues to unfold.

You’d expect to see the opposite at this point, as GOP voters get a better look at their presidential field. But as it turns out, the more Republicans learn about their choices, the more they’d like to support someone else.

And that’s just the rank and file. Among the prominent party voices, Ross Douthat called this “the weakest presidential field of any major party in a generation”; Bill Kristol has invested quite a bit of time urging late-entrants to get into the race; and Fred Barnes put it this way last week: “Would Romney be odds-on to win the nomination if Mitch Daniels or Chris Christie or Paul Ryan or Jeb Bush were in the race? Not likely.”

All of these assessments are quite persuasive. At times, it’s tough to watch the race for the Republican nomination and not think, “Wow, these are some really awful candidates.”

Last month, disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was in the lead. Not too long before that, Herman Cain was taken seriously as a candidate for national office. Over the summer, Michele Bachmann — Michele Bachmann — appeared to be a top-tier challenger.

The 2012 presidential race was one many Republicans expected to win fairly easily, creating a unique opportunity for those with national ambitions, and yet, the party is left with a field that can generously be described as “mediocrities.”

I have to wonder whether some of those who considered the race but decided not to pull the trigger are kicking themselves at this point.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • just bill on January 10, 2012 8:48 AM:

    but steve, the ones who aren't running aren't any better! this is what they've got! a bunch of crazy people spouting lies, who have no solid policies to stand on. this is today's republican party. for all of our sakes, may it get killed off this election cycle and forever rest in peace.

  • c u n d gulag on January 10, 2012 8:52 AM:

    Tim Pawlenty "Stupid Enough" must be kicking himself right now.

    The thing of it is, you can change the clowns, or even try to put some lions in it - but it's still a f'in clown car.

    And now the voter base of Bozo's is desperately seeking an Emmit Kelley Jr.
    A more serious clown - one with gravitas.

    Fred Thompson still alive?

  • Th on January 10, 2012 8:56 AM:

    If not for his idiot brother, Jeb Bush would be walking away with the nomination.

  • Danp on January 10, 2012 9:00 AM:

    The dumbest decision Republicans made was to have so many debates. A platform like theirs needs plenty of darkness. No candidate could pull off a lengthy sales pitch that would please the Tea partiers, Wall Street and the God-agrees-with-me crowd - especially if they had a record they had to defend. After all, 10 years ago, nobody believed in this many unicorns.

  • james on January 10, 2012 9:02 AM:

    It is certainly an opportunity for someone to step in and rescue the situation, someone, like, let's see, Sarah Palin, with a proven track record of generating enthusiasm among voters. Yeah. That's it.

    Captcha: smoked toradapp. Well, someone's smoking something

  • AndThenThere'sThat on January 10, 2012 9:05 AM:

    A new CBS News poll found that only 37% of self-identified Republicans are satisfied with their current choices....And that�s just the rank and file.

    Don't worry, the last survivor standing need only select a running mate, a Sara Palin for example, and the base will be tripping over itself in its next gush-fest.

  • JM on January 10, 2012 9:08 AM:

    Thing is all the guys would be as clownish as the field they have. Would they have answered differently then the rest? All feel the need to appeal to the Tea Party Crackers in order to win a primary. Huntsman tried a dose of sanity and got nowhere.

  • John Dillinger on January 10, 2012 9:10 AM:

    The candidates who are sitting it ou realize that they have to declare fealty to the innumerate, science denying, socially regressive ideas that animate the Obama hating feedback loop, which is largely Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the base that hangs on every word of the previous two. Given the damage Republicans have done to the country over the past 20 years, it is quite likely that being President is, in their estimation, no longer worth it. But for a hyperactive ambition gene, I think Romney would agree with them.

  • walt on January 10, 2012 9:11 AM:

    Romney, Perry, and to a lesser extent Pawlenty and Huntsman were the only candidates who got serious funding. The others were just vanity candidates or Ron Paul, a gadfly. It's fascinating how the GOP has a potentially deep bench here (Christie, Thune, Bush, Daniels) but they were scared off by the magnitude of the challenge.

    Is it too early to ask who the Democrats will be in 2016? Off the top of my head I can't think of any obvious candidates (assuming Hillary is true to her word). Andrew Cuomo is as close as I get. Maybe this isn't just an R vs D thing. Maybe our nation's inability to find good leadership runs deeper than the quadrennial beauty show. We're stuck as a nation and it shows up in the caliber of candidates willing to try for that brass ring.

  • SteveT on January 10, 2012 9:13 AM:

    the party is left with a field that can generously be described as "mediocrities."

    It is inevitable. The Republican base insists that their candidates follow Republican dogma. Candidates have to be able to "believe six impossible things before breakfast":

    -- That the Community Investment Act caused the Great Recession by forcing the unfortunate, over-regulated banks to lend money to lazy, undeserving dark-skinned people.

    -- That Obama has made the economy worse.

    -- That there are trillions of dollars to be saved in the budget if the money going to undeserving dark-skinned people, dark-skinned illegal aliens, and to NPR and the National Endowment for the Arts are eliminated.

    -- That multimillionaires are overtaxed.

    -- That multimillionaires are "job creators".

    -- That Obama is a communo-fascist who loves terrorists, hates America, "nationalized" the health care system and the auto industry and has never produced a real birth certificate.

    The only people who can run for office on a platform of such nonsense are people too stupid to know better, the people who are so delusional that they believe that there is evidence to prove each ridiculous idea, or the pathologically dishonest who will say literally to get elected.

  • j on January 10, 2012 9:13 AM:

    My best thing of the day, I will soon be able to buy a HD television made in the US (Element Electronics) made in Detroit - ps don't tell Willard or Bain will buy it and ship it back overseas.

  • MattF on January 10, 2012 9:15 AM:

    My feeling, fwiw, is that the non-runners have looked at the Presidential race and decided-- contrary to conventional wisdom-- that Obama will probably win. What's left are the crackpots the narcissitic mediocrities who simply don't know and don't care about what's happening in the real world.

  • internet tough guy on January 10, 2012 9:15 AM:

    From who did Barnicle steal that line from?

  • chi res on January 10, 2012 9:15 AM:

    I have to wonder whether some of those who considered the race but decided not to pull the trigger are kicking themselves at this point.

    The reason they decided not to run for the nomination is because they didn't want to lose to Obama. That hasn't changed.

  • Kuji on January 10, 2012 9:20 AM:

    Does it mean so much to Republicans that they "win"? They'll stick us with a President they don't even like or trust. Country first my ass. All they care about is control.

  • T2 on January 10, 2012 9:20 AM:

    "some of those who considered the race" Huh? Christie, Ryan, another Bush, Palin, unknown Daniels ????? Those are all horribly misguided, stupid, hard core options that in no way are "better" than the bunch the GOP has right now. They are just different losers in a Party full of losers, and a Party of loser policies and ideas. Losers.

  • N.Wells on January 10, 2012 9:22 AM:

    "Would Romney be odds-on to win the nomination if Mitch Daniels or Chris Christie or Paul Ryan or Jeb Bush were in the race? Not likely."

    Ha. Hahahahahahaha.

    I'd have said "Bring it on," but that now has all the pizzazz of "Mission Accomplished". (These days, the entire party and all their media enablers consist of nothing but fools and charlatans, and rich greedy bastards.)

  • chi res on January 10, 2012 9:24 AM:

    My feeling, fwiw, is that the non-runners have looked at the Presidential race and decided-- contrary to conventional wisdom-- that Obama will probably win.

    Your "feeling" is not contrary to conventional wisdom. Loud fringe voices (both sides) and msm viewer/clicker hype do not conventional wisdom make.

  • Ladyhawke on January 10, 2012 9:27 AM:


    We are watching the implosion of the Republican Party. The term "clown car" candidates just rolls off the tongue. Everyone says it now. They come across as radical, unhinged and deranged. Their mantra being no regulations and no taxes with a large helping of religious fervor. As Steve Benen would say, this is no way to run a democracy in the 21st century.

    The post below is of a very disappointed Republican voter.

    “Why I’m leaving the Republican Party…and Endorsing President Obama”


    Additionally, I have specific grievances with the current “know-nothing” incarnation of the Republican Party:

    The Republican Party refuses to give full rights and liberty to same sex couples.

    The Republican Party refuses to craft real solutions to the problem of high healthcare costs. Our healthcare costs are the highest in the world, and rising. Our public servants need to be developing solutions that bring heathcare costs into line with the rest of the world.

    The Republican Party refuses to acknowledge the individual rights of women to control their own medical decisions and body.

    The Republican Party refuses to address the real solutions towards lowering the deficit. Any person who says they would oppose a plan that contains a ratio of $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases simply does not have enough of an education in economics to participate in the discussion.



  • beejeez on January 10, 2012 9:28 AM:

    Jeez, 37 percent of Republicans think this freak show is just fine?

    I think this is the inevitable endgame of the Fox-talk radio propaganda circuit -- strong enough to unravel competent governance, but not strong enough (yet) to install the commander-in-chief of its choice.

  • golack on January 10, 2012 9:29 AM:

    mediocrities??? When bat-**** insane is mediocrity, where are we at????

    Wasn't Perry the "savior" candidate?

  • SadOldVet on January 10, 2012 9:32 AM:

    My analysis continues to be:

    1) The Bush Criminal Enterprise decided quite a while ago that they needed until 2016 to rehabilitate the Bush name before Jeb runs.

    Therefore, it is in the best interests of the BCE that Obama get reelected.

    2) The bulk of the money from the 'Funding Wing' of the Republican Party is being and will be withheld from this year's repuke nominee and will be redirected into senate and house races. The biggest reason for this is that they funded the Teabaggers (reich wing repukes relabeled so that they can claim they were never Little George supporters) thru $$$ and the corporately owned media and know that they have lost control of the repuke party.

    Therefore, it is in the best interests of the FW to let this year's nominee go down in flames (preferably a teabagger supported nominee) so that the Funding Wing can regain control of the party.

  • Dennis on January 10, 2012 9:43 AM:

    I realized Republicans didn't care about winning the White House when Mitch McConnell said his only goal was defeating Barack Obama. If you assume the opposite of everything the GOP leadership says, you'll be a lot better off.

    The only thing Republicans care about is shifting our political discourse as far right as possible, that's it. No respectable GOP politician wants to be the face of this historic shift in politics, which is why Mitt Romney will be their presidential nominee.

  • jim filyaw on January 10, 2012 9:44 AM:

    i seriously doubt that any of the names fred barnes proposes would be any more palatable once what they are all about became common knowledge (ryan/ayn rand for instance). the republicans have benefited immensely from a credulous, dull, and incurious msm for the last thirty years. they fall for the persona of reagan and gloss over the meese's, watt's, and burford's. same with dubya, for a while until the practical effects and results of his administration became undeniable. the current crop lacks reagan's expertise at pretending to be what he is absolutely not (remember, all through his administration, polls routinely indicated the public generally disliked his actual policy positions). in reality, the discontent with this crop is discontent with what the republican party stands for. what they need is another magician. i don't see one in barnes' wet dreams.

  • chi res on January 10, 2012 10:05 AM:

    Ryan Lizza says former President George W. Bush is at fault for the exceptionally weak field of Republican presidential candidates.

    "A successful Presidency can produce a new crop of future Presidential candidates for the party that controls the White House. The vice president and cabinet officials, as well as governors and senators elected over the course of the administration, are historically major sources for a party's next round of candidates. The Bush years had the opposite effect. It was unthinkable that his vice president would run for higher office and much of his cabinet left Washington tainted by the President's unpopularity. Moreover, Bush helped sink his party in the 2006 and 2008 elections, thus depleting the ranks of potential Republican candidates for 2012."


  • Diane Rodriguez on January 10, 2012 10:36 AM:

    I think Walt has a significant point. We need to be concerned about finding a strong, charismatic candidate for 2016. Republicans may have gotten over their infatuation with racism, bigotry and regressive social policies by then. If the power and money behind these foolish ideologues doesn't prevail, we are going to need another candidate who excites the country as Obama did in 2008. Getting Obama elected in 2012 is imperative but as important is regaining seats in the Congress.

    As for Christie, Daniels, Ryan and Bush as "saviors" for the Republicans -please - the rest of the current idiots were also labeled in the same manner. Familiarity breeds contempt. Some of us just don't need to be that familiar to feel the contempt.

  • kuck3putt on January 10, 2012 10:46 AM:

    The saner Republicans are sitting out this cycle due to the extreme positions that need to be taken in order to appeal to the incoherent base. Why tie oneself to crazy ideas that must later be refudiated? Better to remain on the sidelines until the illness that plagues their party runs its course. The Repubs can't be insane forever, can they?

  • Zorro on January 10, 2012 11:27 AM:

    The 2012 presidential race was one many Republicans expected to win fairly easily, creating a unique opportunity for those with national ambitions, and yet, the party is left with a field that can generously be described as “mediocrities.”

    This poses an interesting problem for the GOP, but perhaps not the one you think.

    It can be- and has been- demonstrated that the GOP stole the 2004 election (Thanks to Ohio + Diebold's guarantee of its votes for Bush) and 2000 (thanks to bad ballot design, easily-confused people, a Brooks Brothers riot, GWB's brother counting FL's votes, and GWB's Dad's Supreme Court). This demonstrates something very basic: you don't steal a blowout election, you steal a close one.

    Think about it- if the real vote is ridiculous- say, 60%-40%- then any attempt to steal it would be blatant. But if the election is close, all you need to do to steal an election is flip a few precincts in close states (like FL in '00 or OH in '04), and suddenly a razor-thin loss becomes a razor-thin win.

    The GOP couldn't steal the win for McCain b/c it was such a blowout win for Obama that any attempt at theft would be obvious. If the margin of victory had been closer, then larceny is possible. Therein lies the problem w/the current GOP field- it's so ridiculous that it makes fixing the results a matter of being blatant and obvious, rather than subtle. And, as demonstrated, you don't steal an election by being blatant.

    The only non-ridiculous candidates on the GOP side are Romney and Huntsman. But Romney's had to twist himself into a caricature to pander to the GOP's far-right base, and Huntsman's basic levelheadedness and competence makes him unacceptable to that same base. So, the GOP's left with the spectre of stealing an election which could be *very* difficult to steal. Hence the focus on suppressing turnout via voter ID laws.

    Submitted for your approval,

  • Kevin (not the famous one) on January 10, 2012 11:38 AM:

    When the financiers can fund somebody like DubYa to squat in the White House for, not one, but TWO election cycles (and his only gift is to be able to recite 15 minutes of spew), then it isn't any stretch at all to sell this current crop of misfits.

    How Sister Sarah got sidelined is beyond me-there has got to be a book in the making there. Come to think of it, if not for her, I shudder to think who would be occupying the White House now.

    crapcha conjectures: commonly projoura

  • Anonymous on January 10, 2012 11:58 AM:

    I have to wonder whether some of those who considered the race but decided not to pull the trigger are kicking themselves at this point.

    Ditto what other's are saying above. The ones sitting out have figured out that Big O is gonna take the presidency in '12 too. No sense in entering the race if he's only gonna get creamed come November... Might as well send some other over-zealous schmuch whose too stupid to realize he's being sent to his own political death (GO SANTORUM!!!!).

    This has got to be disappointing to GOP voters. It's like going to the Pizza Hut lunch buffet and the only thing available is the anchovy that's been sitting on the line for over an hour... well, nevermind then.

  • JW on January 10, 2012 12:01 PM:

    "Thing is all the guys would be as clownish as the field they have. Would they have answered differently then the rest"?

    Exactomundo. The inmates took control of California's republican party twenty years ago, and California has been a blue state ever since. The same has now happened to the national GOP. After that party cut final ties with its already tenuous moral underpinning in 2003, it ceded its control to the political dregs. Needless to say, it's a power they have no intention of ever relinquishing.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on January 10, 2012 12:28 PM:

    Anonymous on January 10, 2012 11:58 AM

    that's me...

  • MNRD on January 10, 2012 2:21 PM:

    Steve, you are failing to connect the dots here. The reason WHY this GOP Primary Atmosphere is so forbidding to potential candidates is BECAUSE of how this GOP has conducted itself in order to make this President vulnerable. The opportunity only appears to be good on the surface because the extreme GOP sabotaging of this Presidency has indeed taken its toll. However, that sabotaging has taken an even bigger toll on the GOP itself! Thus, those potential candidates decided not to run (wisely) in order to avoid the taint of being associated with this disgraceful GOP Presidential Atmosphere.

    Look at the attack that Huntsman is now making on Romney. Huntsman is bluntly proclaiming that, "Romney puts politics above country" - Huntsman is making the charge that Romney is a deeply dishonorable politician. This GOP has forced Romney to run a deeply dishonorable campaign - that is precisely why Romney is open to this line of attack. Those other potential candidates had the good sense not to place themselves in that position. Take Haley Barbour, for example, who is arguably the strongest political talent on the entire Republican bench. Barbour knew that he would have come across as George Wallace in this GOP Primary Atmosphere, and he sensibly decided that he would have none of it.

  • Texas Aggie on January 10, 2012 2:51 PM:

    I don't think that any of the people you mention, Steve, are at all unhappy about not running. When you sleep with dogs, you wake up with fleas, and none of the other potential candidates wanted to be tarnished by association with the present candidates. In addition, they realized that there was little chance of them winning given the quality of the republican platform and the bad taste that Congressional republicans have left in people's mouths. So why go through the agony of looking worse than bad?

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