Jonathan Bernstein refers us to 2012 GOP presidential nominee rankings by David Bernstein. The latter ranks Pawlenty as #1, and he explains why:
East Coast urban sophisticates saw Pawlenty’s CPAC speech as uninspiring. I saw it as perfect for Iowa. Hey, you know who else was no good at delivering a slick, rousing, barn-burner of a stump speech? Every Republican Presidential nominee of the last quarter-century, that’s who.
I will grant Bernstein the second point, but who said that Pawlenty’s CPAC speech was either slick or rousing? These are two things that Pawlenty is not. The key problem is that the reception to Pawlenty’s speech was not particularly strong. He was in a room filled with conservative activists assembled to listen to red-meat stump speeches, and he did not generate the kind of excitement that Rubio or even Romney managed to inspire. Pawlenty’s routine may satisfy some voters, but my guess is that for a lot of activists and future Iowa caucus-goers it comes off sounding either overly rehearsed or stale and unconvincing.
The rest of the list is worth looking at, too, but I find about half of his top ten to be very implausible nominees. It seems to me that DeMint is an obvious non-starter. Many activists may love him, but his appeal to larger state electorates during the primary contest will be distinctly limited. Mike Pence is coming from the House, which is one thing that makes him much less likely to succeed. As far as getting through early primary states is concerned, he is just moderate enough on immigration to anger restrictionists but not enough to satisfy moderates, and he suffers from the same problem that Ross has identified with Mitch Daniels: he has no power base, no constituency within the party that he can rely on. Rick Perry is the governor of Texas, and I feel fairly safe saying that no Texas Republican governor will be entrusted with his party’s presidential nomination for decades to come. Jeb Bush is a remote possibility, but his name makes it impossible.
Thune has the unfortunate distinction of being a pro-bailout Senator who has since tried to become a leading anti-bailout Senator. He will have some of the credibility problems that plagued Romney last time around. Gingrich is unlikely to run, and if he does run I am fairly confident that he will not win a single caucus or primary. Whatever other problems or virtues he has, he is just not a likeable person. Barbour is more plausible, though he faces the same problem that Pence and Daniels face.
Sadly, Romney has to be considered the most plausible of the first ten listed here. He has been cultivating activists, supporting candidates around the country, and doing all the right things to prepare for a presidential run. His support for the bailout is a liability, as is his corporate background, but if anyone can campaign as a phony populist it would have to be the candidate who excels at being phony. Even though he is the most plausible, he does have a great electoral weakness. His religion remains an enormous hindrance, as Bernstein’s article on Romney mentions. This is true not only among evangelicals, but with the general electorate as well. I don’t see anything changing here in the next few years. A Barbour or a Daniels stands to benefit from Romney running into a wall of opposition in the primaries.
P.S. For the record, I have an absolutely awful history of predicting future nominees, so bear that in mind when reading all of this.