Rupert Cornwell: The right seems reluctant to run against Obama

Out of America: Six months ago, the Republicans triumphed in the midterms, but few have come forward for 2012

Share
Related Topics

You can't beat somebody with nobody. That hoary truism applies equally to war, sport and politics. And rarely has it been more relevant than apropos next year's fast-approaching US presidential contest, pitting Barack Obama against – well, whom?

In normal election cycles, the moment the midterm results are in, the presidential campaign begins. But not this time. The Republican triumph in 2010 is now more than six months past; you would have imagined that, with the White House seemingly winnable, the party's biggest names would have been jostling to become the 2012 nominee. If anything, though, the opposite has been true. The line-up is unclear, the war is still phoney, and many activists are openly unhappy with the choice thus far on offer.

But that must change soon. Presidential campaigns are like icebergs: a candidate's speeches and television appearances are but the visible part of a mighty enterprise of fundraising, networking and grassroots organising that usually has long been under way. So here is a snapshot of the race, broken down into four categories: who's out, who might be in, who's certain to be in, and the "if onlys".

First, the "outs". A couple of weeks ago Haley Barbour, the canny governor of Mississippi, surprised even close friends by deciding he lacked the "fire in the belly" to run. Then Donald Trump bowed out, having reaped a publicity bonanza with which to launch a new season of Celebrity Apprentice. Then, and most significantly, Mike Huckabee – owner of his own show on Fox News, runner-up to John McCain in 2008, and who certainly would have done well next year – said he wouldn't run, depriving the Republicans' powerful socially conservative wing of its most plausible standard bearer.

Next comes a foursome yet to make up their minds. Mitch Daniels, once White House budget director and now the competent but rather dull governor of Indiana, says he will decide very soon. Old-school Republicans would love a Daniels candidacy; indeed, in these deficit-troubled times, boring may be chic. Alas, his wife is not keen on the idea; more than likely, Daniels will not run.

On the other hand, John Huntsman, fluent and telegenic, a former Utah governor and, until last month, Obama's ambassador to China, probably will – at least if last week's five-day trip to New Hampshire, home of the first primary, is any pointer.

The problem is that three out of four Republican voters have never heard of Huntsman, who in any case may be too moderate to survive the primaries. Sarah Palin, by contrast, clearly has no problem on either score, and Huckabee's departure provides her with an obvious opening. Like him though, she may decide that lucrative celebrity on Fox is preferable to the 24/7 ordeal of a presidential race – one, moreover, that she has no chance of winning. In which case the conservative mantle may fall upon Michele Bachmann, the Tea Party's loudest champion in Congress.

Then there is the group who, to all intents and purposes, are in the race already. If anyone is a front-runner it is Mitt Romney, who has been plotting a 2012 campaign from the moment he lost in the primaries last time around to McCain. Romney is experienced, and is winning hands down the vital "money primary" of fundraising. But he creates little excitement, and carries the albatross of Massachusetts healthcare reform that was his greatest achievement as governor of that state, but which is virtually indistinguishable from the "Obamacare" reviled by all right-wing Republicans. Each attempt to explain the contradiction only compounds his reputation as a flip-flopper.

Unlike Romney, who technically is still at the campaign exploratory committee stage, Tim Pawlenty will make his candidacy official today. But despite two solid terms as governor of Minnesota, Pawlenty stirs few souls. If he wins the nomination, they say, it will be as last man standing, after every rival has stumbled or self-destructed.

Which, of course, is cue for the hyperbolic and intemperate Newt Gingrich, who has surprised no one by committing a mega-gaffe barely a fortnight after throwing his hat into the ring. His criticism of his own party's official proposal for Medicare reform as "right-wing social engineering" prompted one gleeful Democrat senator to declare: "For the first time ever, I agree with Newt Gingrich." The thrice-married former Speaker is also having to explain why he once ran a $250,000 debt at the jewellers Tiffany and Co.

A few smaller fish must be noted, too: Rick Santorum, a former senator who blames America's economic woes on abortion; the libertarian Ron Paul, who calls for the abolition of the Federal Reserve, a return to the gold standard and the legalisation of heroin; and the pizza-chain owner and talk-show host Herman Cain.

In short, every "in" has a drawback. And so to the "if onlys". Foremost among them is Jeb Bush, brother of the last president and former governor of Florida, who Republican strategists believe would be the party's strongest candidate in 2012. Unfortunately, Bush wants to keep his powder dry until 2016. But, these same strategists fondly wonder, might he yet be persuaded to jump in this time, if all else fails? Much the same goes for Chris Christie, the blunt-talking governor of New Jersey, even though he swears to everyone who will listen that he is sitting out 2012.

In fact, the biggest peril facing Republicans is a repeat of 1972 when George McGovern was buried in one of the greatest presidential landslides ever, inflicted by Richard Nixon no less. Back then, liberals had dragged the Democrats far to the left of what the country would accept. The Tea Party poses a comparable threat from the right to today's Republicans.

But Obama is not invincible. The president basks in the glory of having hunted down Osama bin Laden. But his fate in 2012 will be settled by the economy. A new downturn, a new jump in unemployment – and a mainstream Republican (Romney, Pawlenty, Huntsman, even Jeb Bush?) who talks credibly about the economy would surely have a chance. First though, you need a somebody.





React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Today is a bigger Shabbes than usual in the Jewish world because it has been chosen to launch the Shabbos Project  

Shabbes exerts a pull on all Jews, and today is bigger than ever

Howard Jacobson
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker