March 29, 2023

Handicapping the Rapidly Shrinking Republican Race

Republican ElectionOne of the unique features of the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination has been the fluidity of the field. As of December 7, six different candidates can claim to have held either front-runner or first-runner up status at one point in the process. Furthermore, we have seen a large number of candidates and potential candidates either opt not to run or drop out of consideration. In fact, one could argue that the number of not-running candidates outpaces the number of actual candidates. Underlying the fluidity is a unique trend in the Republican electorate — they are mad.

Before discussing the current slate of candidates, it is important to note that the current slate of Republican candidates is more likely to shrink than to grow. Many states, including Florida, New Hampshire and Ohio, have already closed their ballots to new candidates. As such, any new entrants into the race would have to win the nomination without the benefit of being on the ballot in any of the nine states with cutoffs before December 10.

With this in mind, the most prominent current members of the Republican slate of candidates are Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and John Huntsman. Although the candidates cover a mix of policies including libertarianism, Tea Party advocacy, social conservatism and mainstream Republicanism, they can also be split into two camps by demeanor. Gingrich, Paul and Bachmann represent the high intensity part of the pool, while Romney, Santorum and Huntsman have much calmer demeanors.

Among the “calm” candidates, Mitt Romney has consistently polled stronger than the other two. While Santorum has more consistently been a social conservative and Huntsman has strong economic credentials, neither have achieved significant public support, media attention or fundraising. As such, Romney is the most likely candidate to come out of this group.

The more vocal “Tea Party”-friendly candidates are the group in which the greatest degree of flux has occurred. Herman Cain is the most recent ex-member of the group, and Michele Bachmann has been unable to regain the lead that she held in the Ames straw poll. While both Gingrich and Paul have benefited from other candidate’s missteps, Paul has not yet broken into consistent top tier status, likely due to his at-times unpopular positions and perceived non-presidential stage presence. As such, right now, Gingrich is the likely winner of this group.

With this in mind, the choice goes down to Romney or Gingrich. Both have relatively similar moderate conservative positions and both have a challenging history of flip-flops on many issues. Romney offers a solid history and excellent presence, while Gingrich offers a passionate demeanor balanced by a number of questions about his personal history. Given the mood of the electorate as well as current polling, Gingrich appears to be the likely nominee. However, his ability to clinch the nod will depend on his ability to withstand attacks for his lobbying activities and history of serial adultery. Should these issues derail Gingrich, Republicans can expect to see a Romney-Obama contest in November of 2012.


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