The Iowa caucuses are almost history. Thank heaven!
No matter which candidate wins or even survives to go on, a lot of Republicans will be disappointed.
How the Republicans have longed for a real candidate for president. Not just any candidate - they've had plenty of second, third and fourth-rate wanabes. But nobody they dreamed of as "really good", such as Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Mitch Daniels, or Paul Ryan. Ann Coulter said months ago that the GOP had to nominate Chris Christie to win: "Nominate Mitt Romney and we will lose."
So why aren't the big guys in the game? One simple reason: they doubt that 2012 is their year. They don't want to waste a bid for the presidency by going against Obama. Much better, in their calculations, to wait for an open shot in 2016. Traditionally, beating an incumbent president is very hard. Clinton beat George Bush the elder because Bush was a lousy candidate. Obama is certainly not a lousy candidate. Indeed, he is superb.
But what about the economy, you say. Doesn't the economy doom Obama? Well, the economy's seemingly getting better. It doesn't have to actually be better by next summer; it just has to be clearly headed in that direction. The GOP big guys weren't willing to bet against the economy in advance in order to have a shot at the presidency. These are careful men.
Their caution also spared them the humiliating experience of sharing the debate stage with some of the wackiest people on the planet. As it is, the GOP brand has been brought very low by the likes of Michele Bachman, Herman Cain, Donald Trump, Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich. Standing next to this bunch for debate after debate is not where a serious candidate wants to be. Please note that it has done Mitt Romney no good. With such a gang of crazies, no one can shine who carries their party label.
Another compelling reason for the big guys to stay out is that their party is in shambles. Back in the days of Nixon and his Southern Strategy, the GOP made a deal with the devil. And as the old saying goes, "When you sup with the devil, use a long spoon." First embracing the white racist reaction of the South to civil rights in '68, the GOP then proceeded to embrace the evangelical right, beginning in the '70s and cresting in George W. From these elements came the Tea Party. And the Tea Party is now destroying the GOP.
If any of the big guys was thinking in 2010 of running in 2012, the Congressional election in 2010 was certainly a red flag. Sure, the GOP won big, but the way it won was alarming for the GOP. It was a victory of extremists. Most of the House seats that went Republican went to Tea Party candidates. The governorships that went Republican in Ohio and Wisconsin, two key swing states, went to extremists who have almost been run out of office.
This has been bad news for the GOP, making a GOP run for the president very difficult. The Tea Party House has played right into Obama's hands, clearly establishing the GOP as the party of a reckless"no" at a time when the economy desperately needs federal action. For his part, Obama has clearly established himself as a reasonable man. Independent voters like reasonable leaders, even if some of Obama's party members were "disappointed" that he couldn't do what he couldn't do. Then - at just the right moment - Obama began his crusade to save the middle class.
How do you run against that? How do you run for president as a Republican when your Congressional wing wants to increase taxes on the middle class while giving ever more tax breaks to the 1%? How do you run with Eric Cantor grinning right next to you?
Could the GOP big guys foresee all this back in 2010 when they might have been mulling a race for the presidency? You betcha! Reading political tea leaves (no pun intended) is what makes these guys into political big guys. They could see the outline if not the details.
So ignore the pundits who have been saying for three years that Obama is a one-term president. The GOP guys who didn't run think otherwise. They have seen him all along as a very, very formidable candidate for re-election. And they are the ones who know best.
And he is a formidable candidate as we start 2012.
Provided you are there this year to make it happen.