For the men (and one rather polarizing woman) who might run for president as Republicans in 2012, now is the wilderness campaign. After the midterms, the struggle for the nomination will move out into open country. But for the moment, it’s all guerrilla warfare and tactical maneuvering — in the form of Web videos and op-eds, speeches and endorsements, and the occasional public dig at a potential rival.
By definition, in a wilderness campaign it’s hard to tell who’s winning. Are all of the endorsements by Sarah Palin building an army of “Mama Grizzly” Republicans who will rise up for her in 2012? Did Mitch Daniels’s June trip to Washington, during which he managed to irritate both neoconservatives (with talk of defense cuts) and social conservatives (by floating the idea of a social issues “truce”), quiet some of the buzz around the Indiana governor’s candidacy? Was Mitt Romney’s recent op-ed article attacking the New Start treaty a savvy move that burnished his credentials as a critic of the Obama administration’s foreign policy? Or was it an unforced error, because it annoyed pro-Start foreign policy hands in the Republican establishment?
Palin is Palin: if she runs, there’s going to be a constituency that would crawl on broken glass to vote for her, no matter how many soap operas cling to her. Huckabee, meanwhile, is a chronically underestimated figure who straddles two anti-establishment demographics (the Tea Parties and the Christian Right), and whose political savvy rivals that of his fellow Arkansan Bill Clinton.
Neither is exactly brimming over with gravitas. But either one might be able to beat the unloved Romney, his money and organizational muscle notwithstanding.
This prospect gives Republican insiders heartburn. In the salons and bars of conservative Washington, there’s an obvious appetite for a kind of intra-establishment coup, in which Romney is knocked from his perch as the safe, sober choice and a fresher figure takes his place.
One candidate for this role is Daniels: He’s too wonky for some tastes, but he’s a well-connected wonk, with access to the web of power brokers who helped elect George W. Bush. Another is Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, who’s beloved of party bigwigs despite seeming like a liberal’s caricature of a Republican — floridly Southern, heavyset and an ex-tobacco lobbyist. There’s also Senator Jon Thune of South Dakota and Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, both safe-seeming choices — though Thune doesn’t have much of a record to run on, and lately Pawlenty seems more interested in playing the populist card than in wooing the establishment.
New York Times