Let us not mince words. There are at most five plausible Republican presidents on the horizon – Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Utah governor and departing ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, former Massachusetts governor Romney and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.
So the Republican winnowing process is far advanced. But the nominee may emerge much diminished by involvement in a process cluttered with careless, delusional, egomaniacal, spotlight-chasing candidates to whom the sensible American majority would never entrust a lemonade stand, much less nuclear weapons. ~George Will
I assume Will is describing Gingrich and Huckabee in that last passage, but the description fits the last Republican nominee just as well. On Libya, we are seeing what McCain’s first, second, and third responses to a foreign conflict are and what they likely would have been had we been unfortunate enough to have him as President, and they all involve military escalation. We can’t rule out that Obama will eventually succumb to the endless agitation for another war, but I am confident that if McCain were in his place the bombing would be starting any day now. The next election probably isn’t going to turn on foreign policy issues, but Libya is a good test for judging the prudence and wisdom of members of the Republican 2012 field. Pawlenty and Gingrich have spoken about Libya publicly, and they have re-confirmed that they should not be entrusted with any significant power, much less the Presidency.
As for the 2012 field, Will is engaged in some wishful thinking. He thinks highly of Mitch Daniels, so he includes him as one of the five plausible prospective candidates. It would be good for the quality of the debate if Daniels ran, but with each passing day I find it harder to believe that Daniels will take up the thankless task of trying to lead his party when so many of its activists seem intent on finding reasons to dislike him. At first glance, Barbour seems plausible as a presidential candidate, but he really isn’t. My guess is that he wouldn’t be competitive outside the South during the primaries, and he doesn’t have the built-in advantages that Huckabee had with evangelicals. Were he somehow to make it to the general election, he would be second only to Palin as a Democratic propagandist’s dream come true. Huntsman isn’t going anywhere, and Will must know that.
Of Will’s five, that leaves the last two, and both of them are definitely running, which is something that we can’t say for the other three. That doesn’t mean that the field has been winnowed down even more. Instead, it is going to be very different from Will’s list of competent current and former state executives. Will seems to take it for granted that Huckabee and Gingrich have disqualified themselves by saying false and stupid things. Evidently, Will has not been paying close enough attention to the quality of debate inside the GOP among its would-be leaders, including the “plausible” ones in Romney and Pawlenty. Will underestimates how much the primary candidates are going to have to accommodate themselves to the “vibrations of weirdness.” That doesn’t mean that Huckabee will run, and it doesn’t follow from this that Gingrich will be competitive, but we’re going to see the 2012 field trying to outdo one another in denouncing Obama and all his works with increasingly implausible, far-fetched claims.