Many aspirants to be top banana

The field of Republicans vying to knock the president off his perch has changed in appearance since the 2012 race began seriously engaging the players said to be contemplating a run, and will assuredly change again in the next few months. After some of the banner names being tossed around, like Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels and Haley Barbour made their formal exits from the pool of prospective candidates, it began looking like the prevailing sentiment in the ranks was that joining the race wasn’t worth the sacrifice, that perhaps the odds were too heavily weighted against whoever Obama’s opponent turned out to be. But who knows, maybe based on the feeling that the national economy’s resistance to change for the better is solid enough to make the president vulnerable, the field again looks to be getting somewhat fat, with adrenalin in better than ample supply.

An early debate among the GOP prospects, arranged by CNN, was scheduled to have seven participants. To be sure, hardly would all of them be candidates durable enough to be considered more than a token presence. Herman Cain’s candidacy, we pretty much know, is going nowhere. And we can safely deposit Newt Gingrich in that bag as well, given the implosion that has just happened in his camp. But there are others, beyond these initial seven, who can’t be omitted in any surveying of the scene at this stage. Jon Huntsman, who many pundits think to be the strongest potential Obama rival, is apparently seriously testing the waters. And the suddenly ubiquitous Sarah Palin has been trying her best to act like she belongs in the discussion, without having formally joined the fray.

Gingrich’s dismissal as a viable candidate was occasioned by the embarrassing turn of events which saw mass resignations among his campaign staff. Mark Shields, the veteran columnist and PBS commentator, quipped that in all his decades of covering presidential campaigns, it was the first time he had seen “a campaign staff fire a candidate.” But close observers of the Gingrich style and tactics appear to be generally agreed that self-absorbed as he is and unswervingly convinced as he is of the correctness of his take on all matters, Gingrich ought never to have been regarded as more than some sort of jester in the challenge he is purportedly mounting. The non-campaign’s exclamation point probably came when he opted to go on a two-week Mediterranean cruise, when trawling for votes in Iowa and New Hampshire was where his staff wanted him focused.

Her publicity-hound stunts aside – such as crashing Mitt Romney’s campaign launch event — there seems little doubt that Palin unfathomably continues to see herself as credible presidential material. Similarly committed to such fantasia, of course, is a whole mess of social conservative kooks. Harking back to the 2008 happenings, it’s only fair to assume that John McCain was pushed by wielders of right-wing power into the Palin alliance. But as the face of the 2008 GOP brand, McCain will forever be the guy to whom the nation is beholden for a Palin phenomenon having invaded pop culture. Curiously, though, even with the other side perhaps sensing some fault lines in the Obama defenses, some recent polling showed a majority of Republicans opposed to Palin being the party’s 2012 nominee – clearly because they consider her a sure-to-lose liability.

Romney is being called the frontrunner among the declared bunch right now, and his cheering section has to be encouraged by polls showing him competing well against the president. But it’s no secret that he’s not the ideal candidate of the party’s influential right flank. One Republican analyst expressed concern recently that Romney could proceed “boringly” to the nomination, inviting comparison with Bob Dole’s lackluster primary run and losing encounter with Bill Clinton in 1996. Should Romney sew up the nomination, a Palin-like script would most probably unfold, with conservatives demanding their pound of flesh in the running mate choice.

If Jon Huntsman decides to get involved, the former Utah governor and ambassador to China would bring a whole different dynamic to these presidential stakes, his diplomatic service having been undertaken as a member of the Obama administration. As someone generally considered moderate, as Republicans go, Huntsman would also face a not-too-thrilled right wing and its insistence that someone of that ilk be on the ticket. Huntsman is, like Romney, a Mormon and how much of a determining factor that of itself could be, is difficult to predict.

The name of the Texas governor, Rick Perry, has been bandied about as well, as a player who could further scramble the GOP picture, his supporters emboldened by the social conservative credentials he brings to the table.

While all this jockeying for position is underway on that side of the aisle, the cold reality for Obama is that his foreign policy bonanza, courtesy the bin Laden episode, has quickly passed into ancient history. Instead, ongoing unwelcome news on the economic front cannot but be the country’s overwhelming preoccupation. The president and his people are certainly having reinforced for them these days, word that no White House occupant save FDR has been able to get reelected with the unemployment rate topping nine percent. Without a dramatic turnaround in that continuously dispiriting economic outlook, let’s just say Roosevelt’s are some pretty big shoes to fill.

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