The question I'm asking is, who?
Today, Paul Krugman opened his column calling the GOP nomination process a "desperate search" for a candidate other than Mitt Romney. I'm having trouble deciding if this is accurate. I've made it clear on the Pickle before that I do not think Romney is a strong candidate. I think he lives up to the politician stereotype and changes his message based on the group or constituency he may be speaking. He has no real unifying purpose in running for President other than a personal desire to be President. He cannot sufficiently answer the question - why should I vote for Mitt Romney? - as opposed to voting against Obama or instead of the other options. You might think it is a matter of syntax but it is the subtext of every speech, sound byte and debate answer.
The media senses this subtext too. In fact, they are trained to sniff it out and exploit it.
This is where my confusion comes in. Is the GOP searching (almost methodically) for an alternative to Mitt Romney? Or is the media simply cycling through the GOP candidates, writing profiles, challenging Romney and identifying conflict in an effort to keep the cable news shows, blogs and homepage stories popular? Please don't misunderstand my point here, I'm not some conspiracy theorist who thinks the media has a grand, unifying agenda. The media is driven by advertising sales, "hits", "clicks", readers and subscriptions.
Nevertheless, it has been kinda odd how the GOP opposition to Romney has been paraded out, seemingly one at a time, and removed from the race. First, it was Bachmann. She won the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa. She appeared on Sunday morning talk shows. She was profiled in The New Yorker and other news magazines. We learned about her husband and her history in local politics. And then Rick Perry announced his candidacy (sidenote - Could that look like a bigger mistake at this point? Doubtful.)
Rick Perry went toe-to-toe with Romney, briefly. He was profiled as well. We learned about his Dad. We learned about Texas and the death penalty. We learned about his hunting habits. He stumbled, mumbled and bumbled his way into third or even fourth place.
Next, we were told that "true conservatives" (not Republicans mind you) had turned their attention to Herman Cain. Inexplicably, Cain became a real contender. Again I ask, whose doing was that? Did he really make the gains in popularity or did he just receive a greater share of headlines and attention? Cain proposed his 9-9-9 plan. He "won" a debate. He sang. He laughed. We learned about his pizza company. We learned about his childhood. We learned about his proclivities whether they be true or false. We watched him "suspend" his campaign. #2 no more.
Who was left? Newt Gingrich, of course. The man without the campaign staff was suddenly #1 in the polls. Seemingly overnight, Gingrich was elevated to front-runner status, was positioned against Romney and was hypothetically put in debates with President Obama. He was called smart, difficult, terrible, and finally zany. It seems, as Krugman also noted today, the peak of the Gingrich campaign may have come and gone.
But good news. Ron Paul has been moved out to the front of the pack. Slowly we've started to see Ron Paul in Iowa stories. 'What about Ron Paul?' stories. After months of being the outsider, hovering around 8-10% in national polls, it should come as no surprise that we're going to start hearing about his rise in the polls and "legitimacy" as a candidate. Get ready for about a week of Ron Paul hysteria. I'd say more than week but with each challenger comes a shorter and shorter media cycle.
And with the news in Washington regarding the budget today, Paul Ryan is also making headlines. Perhaps we'll see someone float the idea of Ron Paul running with Paul Ryan.
Come to think of it, that's perfect. Ron Paul Ryan 2012. Is it two people? Is it one? It's not so much a Presidential "ticket" as it is a Presidential "concept". If you want to vote for an economic theory in 2012 vote Ron Paul Ryan.
To be honest, I'm surprised a young, David Brooks wanna-be hasn't "called" for Paul Ryan to run for President. Never mind, that was so 4 months ago (to the day).
Frankly, I'm looking forward to getting to Jon Huntsman. First, he is far less popular than he should be. Second, I actually think he is one of the most reasonable voices I've heard (which explains his lack of popularity among so-called "conservatives"). Last, he is the only one left. After Huntsman, we might be stuck with Romney for real.
Wait, is Santorum still running? Eh, who cares?
The bottom line is that Romney is going to be the nominee because the GOP is still taking this batch of candidates and the 2012 election seriously. Despite the fact that no one has provided a sufficient answer to the country's problems and no one has answered the question - why should I vote for you? Mitt "Default" Romney will tell you what you want to hear, lose comfortably* and the GOP can save its good candidates for 2016.
*For historical proof, check out the list of GOP candidates in the 1996 NH primary. And in 2016, there almost certainly won't be a sitting/incumbent Vice President in the race. But there might be another Bush. Save that for a future Pickle post.