This morning I fell into a pleasant discussion with friend and colleague from the Hoosier State about the thinly disguised (and scarcely justified) 2012 Presidential ambitions of Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.
I have a feeling that the 2012 presidential race for the GOP is going to be a lot like 2008 was: The dominant voter impression will be of eight or nine unappealing white folks (mainly or exclusively men) milling around on stage trying to out tea-bag one another, advancing little in the way of new plans but eagerly jumping on the latest offhand remark by Obama or Biden like it signaled the end of the world. That will continue into the summer until, in the end, the GOP nomination won't go to the winner, but rather to the survivor, like McCain. (That might represent the best chance for someone like Daniels, in fact: a scenario in which all the somewhat better qualified candidates have destroyed one another other and he's somehow been left standing.)
So whoever gets the GOP nomination, he (or she) is apt not to command much enthusiasm or loyalty beyond their immediate base, although the amount of corporate money that will be sunk in that campaign could keep even a bale of new-mown hay from the banks of the Wabash polling at around 30% until well into October. And so, barring a catastrophic game-changer (or what we used to call an "October Surprise" before the Bush family got out of national politics), Obama could probably coast more or less handily to re-election in the most expensive and uninformative political campaign in the history of western civilization.
One important difference between the two parties is that presidential primaries are the only place where the GOP is enthusiastic about recycling. If you're a Democratic presidential candidate and you don't get elected, no one will go harder on you and your chances four years from now than your fellow Democrats (except maybe the mainstream political press). On the other hand, how many Republican presidential wannabes can you name from the last 35 years who ever went away just because it was obvious that almost no one would ever vote for him? Even Bob Dole, for whom Viagra became a political metaphor as well as a part of his pharmaceutical regimen, got two bites at the national-office apple.
Even Newt Gingrich, for heaven's sake -- a man whose meaningful political career ended in disgrace over a decade ago, a man with nothing to recommend himself as presidential material other than his apparent media omnipresence -- can get respectable people to treat his 2012 ambitions as a topic for serious conversation!
So if you're a Democratic presidential hopeful, you'd better make certain you win, because the odds are you'll only get one chance at it. If you're a Republican presidential hopeful, though, all you have to do is make it into the first round of playoffs to get on the presidential-hopeful gravy train for the rest of your working life.
If someone like Daniels can come in a surprising second or even third in a couple of early primaries/caucuses in 2012 before washing out because he can't raise enough money, he could still be on right-wing welfare until his dying day, as a think-tank member, FOX News contributor, strategic consultant, paid speaker, provider of "balance" on the Sunday morning talk shows, etc., and above all as an eternal hopeful, always waiting for the next primary season.
(Note to NPR: How can Gingrich be staging a "comeback" -- as you call it in your interview title -- if you've never given him a sporting chance to go away?)
(Update: Steve at No More Mister Nice Blog says Daniels' 2012 chances are "toast," and not in the nice breakfasty way.)