So, the most recent available polling has Romney with more support than Pawlenty, Daniels, and Bachmann combined–with a Bachmann to spare. The notion that we “know with reasonable certainty” that either Pawlenty or Daniels will win is nonsense–unless Will figures that no other nominee has a shot against Obama. But there’s no reason to think Pawlenty and Daniels have more national appeal than Romney. ~James Joyner
George Will identified Pawlenty and Daniels as the two Republicans most likely to prevail in the nominating contest because they are the only two of the five “plausible” candidates that Will previously named that he still believes are viable. This has nothing to do with their actual viability, and everything to do with what George Will hopes will happen. Several of the “plausible” candidates that Will identified earlier were not very plausible at all, but they are all acceptable to Beltway Republicans. I suspect that Will would like to see the Republican nominee be someone he would not be too embarrassed to support, and as of right now his list of acceptable candidates has been reduced to two.
Will’s original list also included Huntsman, Barbour, and Romney. Barbour is out of the running, Will has evidently accepted the conventional wisdom that Romney’s health care liability is ruinous, and he has no particular interest in boosting Huntsman. Of course, anything could happen, but the way that he treats Pawlenty and Daniels as the obvious default choices doesn’t seem to rest on an analysis of their strengths. Instead, it relies entirely on the assumption that ideologically impure, populist, libertarian, and Tea Party-aligned candidates are all so badly flawed that none of them will outperform these two. Let’s remember that Will is talking about one of the least popular “major” candidates and an undeclared governor few outside Indiana and Washington have ever heard of, and somehow he has concluded that these two have the inside track to the nomination.
As James says, “there’s no reason to think Pawlenty and Daniels have more national appeal than Romney,” and we can state with some certainty that neither of them has half the name recognition that Romney has. Daniels can make the excuse that he isn’t a candidate yet and hasn’t been trying to promote himself very much. Pawlenty has been actively campaigning, and he has been working for the better part of the last two years to raise his national profile ahead of the 2012 cycle, and so far there doesn’t seem to be that much interest in what he’s offering.
Update: According to a late April Rasmussen survey of likely Republican voters, Pawlenty and Daniels didn’t score all that well when the respondents were asked about candidates they would vote for or vote against. Adding together definitely/probably figures, we find that just 28% said they would vote for Daniels, and 36% said they would vote against him. Pawlenty does a little better with 41% for and 33% against, but that doesn’t compare very well to Romney’s 57/31% figures. As news about his inclination to choose Condi Rice as a running mate circulates more widely, Daniels’ support is likely to shrink.