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

Ashdown Group: Data Warehouse & Business Intelligence Co-ordinator

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Required skills include SQL querying, SSRS, u...

Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

£25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The demise of a Sixties monster

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
A CCTV camera is seen in front of a large poster opposite in central London  

Home Office is creating more powers to turn everyone into suspects – but leave us no safer

Shami Chakrabarti
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?