Next Up: Rudy, Sarah And Mitch

Well, that was a fun couple of weeks, wasn’t it? For the past month or so, Donald Trump pretended to run for president and the media pretended he was serious (funniest headline I’ve seen today, from the Washington Post, “Donald Trump: I’m Fired!”).

This entertaining period has now drawn to a close, much to the dismay of late-night comedians everywhere, as The Donald all but admits that the whole thing was a ratings and contract negotiations ploy to boost his “Apprentice” show on NBC. What it all means is that we can now take a look at who is yet to decide to jump into the Republican nomination race in earnest, and without such clownish distraction.

The much bigger nomination news coming out of this weekend was that Mike Huckabee had also decided against another run at the big prize. Unlike Trump, Huckabee would have been a serious candidate with a chance of actually winning the nomination. Like Trump, Huckabee found he enjoyed television more than the rigors of campaigning. Huckabee announced Saturday night that he really didn’t have the “fire in the belly” required for a national campaign effort, and that he’d be much more comfortable continuing his commentary from the safe (for Republicans) perch of a Fox News show.

Following Newt Gingrich’s announcement last Wednesday that he was throwing his hat in the ring, Ron Paul also announced he was officially in it to win it — on Friday the Thirteenth, no less. Whatever you think the relative chances for success for Gingrich or Paul are, this also helps to firm up the field of who’s in and who’s out.

But three names remain which could shake up the Republican field to one degree or another: Rudy Giuliani, Sarah Palin, and Mitch Daniels. For the sake of brevity here, we’re going to assume that Michele Bachmann and Jon Huntsman are both running, as well as Mitt Romney (even if they haven’t made their formal campaign announcements yet, all three of these seem committed to a serious run at this point).

Rudy Giuliani likely doesn’t have much of a chance. His flirtation with running in 2012 should mostly be seen, much like Trump, as an effort to boost his own name brand a bit. Even if Rudy does decide to go for it, his effect on the race will likely be as minimal as it was in 2008.

Rudy’s always been a one-issue sort of guy, and his one issue is coming up on a tenth anniversary this year — meaning it is fading in importance to the political scene (note: I am not suggesting 9/11 is fading in importance overall; not in the slightest — just that politically it has moved down most voters’ priorities list in the meantime).

As mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani redefined himself at the end of his term in office as “America’s Mayor,” by his response to the 9/11 tragedy. He later broadened this into being seen as some sort of expert voice on the question of terrorism (and how to fight it) as a whole. With the death of Osama Bin Laden, however, this issue doesn’t pack the same punch as it might have. And that’s before we even get to Rudy’s personal problems, which abound with Republicans.

The Republican primary electorate — especially the social conservative branch — isn’t going to be too keen on hearing Rudy’s soft stance on some of their pet issues, to say nothing of all those videos of him performing in drag. Rudy might have been able to overcome all of it, though, and been a top-tier candidate again, except for one thing — how disastrous his last campaign was.

This would mean Giuliani likely wouldn’t have been able to impress the big money donors in the party, who (of course) always like to bet their campaign cash on a winning team. Which means that even if Rudy does jump in the race officially, he might make for some entertaining debate moments, but likely won’t make much of an impact when the primary voters actually cast their ballots.

Sarah Palin could easily jump into the race, and she could just as easily not. She’s got the same choice Huckabee just faced: run for president and possibly lose, or keep her cushy gig at Fox News. Observers on the ground in key primary states report that Palin is doing absolutely none of the “nuts and bolts” preparations serious candidates must do if they have any chance of success.

Palin, though, delights in “breaking the mould” of politics, and her name-recognition factor alone is so high that she could conceivably jump in the race very late, and still have a significant impact. Palin is the ultimate “love her or hate her” type of candidate. Her supporters can be quite fervent, and she still has the ability to pack a room for a speech. Her “dontcha know” folksy brand is still quite potent among the people who matter the most — people who vote in Republican primaries.

Her negative poll ratings, though, remain so high (even among Republicans in general) that she would be one of the easier Republican candidates for Obama to beat next fall. She would certainly liven up the primary debates, as her stage presence is one of her strongest political assets. With Huckabee and Trump officially out of the race, Palin already vaults from fourth place in current polling to second place.

If she does run, she could easily pick up some potential voters from the pool of Republicans who were for either Huckabee or Trump. Which might make it harder for her to just walk away from a run this time around. She’s already a proven commodity among the Republican base, meaning if she did jump in the race she would have a very credible chance of winning the nomination.

Mitch Daniels has now indicated that he’s going to announce his decision before the end of the month. If you believe the “behind the scenes” reports, this has come down to whether his wife wants him to run or not. She spoke to a conservative gathering recently, which only heightened the perception that Cheri Daniels is the one wearing the veto pants in this political family.

This also serves to spotlight the marital history between the two, but I don’t really think this is going to be much of a drawback for Mitch, if he does eventually decide to run. The story is that the two got divorced, then years later remarried. But divorce per se isn’t the stigma for a politician (especially a Republican politician) that it once was. After all, our first divorced president was none other than Ronald Wilson Reagan.

The Daniels’ divorce, unlike those of some of the other candidates in the race, had a happy ending of reconciliation. And Cheri (who reportedly left Mitch) won’t be the one running. Meaning that even for the “family values” crowd in the Republican base, the story can be spun as one with a storybook ending.

Daniels does have other flaws, but like Sarah Palin the biggest of these flaws are going to be with the general public (he was George W. Bush’s budget director, for instance) instead of with the Republican base. Daniels has minor problems with the new Republican/Tea Party orthodoxy, but then so do all the other current Republican candidates, really.

Daniels, though, would immediately become the Republican political establishment’s favourite candidate, were he to announce he’s running. He’s already the favourite of the political Righty pundits (in a big way). This could lead to raising a lot of money for Daniels, especially from those big Republican donors who are holding back for now.

Daniels would immediately be seen by the Republican bigwigs as the ultimate “anti-Romney” and also their best chance in the general election against Barack Obama. Whether that would translate to actual party base support on a nationwide basis (or even on an Iowa/New Hampshire/South Carolina/Nevada basis) remains to be seen, however much the pundits like him. So far, his polling has been pretty tepid, but that could change with his official announcement. One way or another, though, Daniels would not be seen as just a “vanity candidate” by anyone.

Now that Huckabee and Trump are out, there’s a real scramble for second place to Romney, who is unquestionably the front-runner at this point in the Republican nomination race. Romney just today raised over 10 million dollars in a one-day “moneybomb” fundraising effort.

This is intentional timing by the Romney camp — letting it be known to any Republican challengers just how formidable Romney is going to be on the campaign trail (and in the money race). Romney has mostly been hanging in the background as the rest of the field has shaped up over the past few days, but raising 10 million bucks in one day is certainly a daunting prospect for any would-be candidate to contemplate. Which is, as noted, by design.

The more people Romney can keep out of the race, at this point, the better for him. If he solidifies his standing as the front-runner (and if he builds up a much bigger lead in the polls), it makes it that much harder for someone to jump in late.

One way or another, by the end of this month — with the possible exception of Sarah Palin, who could jump in at any time she wants — the Republican field is going to look pretty close to what it will look like on Republican primary ballots next year.


Chris Weigant blogs at:

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant