Mark Halperin writes about the difficulty Republicans will have in beating President Obama in 2012 because of the weak GOP field, and though I don’t agree with every aspect of his analysis, I do concur with the general thrust of his piece.
I do think that Obama is likely to be vulnerable in 2012, perhaps extremely so. But even if a president is vulnerable, there still needs to be a challenger capable of winning. In 2004, for example, the Iraq War was growing increasingly unpopular and President Bush’s approval rating was starting to wane. The public was open to the idea of electing somebody else, but then Democrats offered up John Kerry as the nominee.
Though Mitt Romney is considered the frontrunner for the GOP nomination right now, a lot of people still don’t like him, both within the party and among the general population. Just as he was trying to get over his reputation as a flip-flopper from his first presidential run, he’s now engaging in even more verbal gymnastics by trying to argue that Romneycare differs substantially from Obamacare (even though the plans are extremely similar). If Romney were the nominee, Obama would be able to neutralize the health care issue quite easily.
The other candidate who has been laying a lot of groundwork for a presidential run is Gov. Tim Pawlenty. In his attempt to overcome his reputation as a moderate, Pawlenty has been catering to conservative audiences for months (his CPAC speech was full of red meat and checked off all the boxes in the conservative issue matrix). By doing this, he risks repeating the failed Romney pandering strategy of 2008. But while that problem may be correctible, the biggest difficulty he’ll have to overcome is that he doesn’t really excite people. That’s something that you can’t teach.
The rest of the candidates whose names have been thrown around aren’t yet taking the traditional steps to gear up for a presidential run, and all of them come with their own sets of problems.
A lot could still change, of course, and I don’t mean to suggest that Obama will be unbeatable in 2012. The point is that even if he’s beatable, the GOP still needs to find somebody who can beat him. And as of now, it isn’t clear who that somebody would be.