2012 Power Rankings

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By Jeff Fecke • 11/8/08 • You think this is too early? Pshaw! Folks, I had my power rankings for 2008 up on the Thursday after Election Day in 2004. Of course, that was part of the grieving process, but still — I’m late to the party this time. Besides, I heard tell that Bobby Jindal was already spotted wandering the streets of Newell. It’s power time!

Jeff Fecke is a freelance writer who lives in Eagan, Minnesota.In addition to his own blog, Blog of the Moderate Left, he also contributes to Alas, a Blog, Minnesota Campaign Report, and AlterNet. Fecke has appeared as a guest on the “Today” show, the Alan Colmes radio show, and the Mark Heaney Show. Fecke is divorced, and the father of one really terrific daughter. His debut novel, The Valkyrie’s Tale, will available for sale in September.

1. Fmr. Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass.

Mittens is clearly from the fiscal conservative, social moderate camp, and although he panders well, the firebreathers don’t trust him. He is, after all, part of that crazy Mormon cult, and while that doesn’t matter to the fiscal conservatives (who backed him strongly in 2004), it does matter to the True Believers, and how.

Romney will be the standard-bearer of the Fox News/Bush wing of the GOP, the man who can try to launch kinder, gentler conservatism 2.0. Alternately, he can try to straddle the two wings of the party, but that didn’t really work in 2008, and I don’t think it will work in 2012. His best bet is to get the moneyed interests behind him, admit that he just doesn’t actually hate gay people, and try to win as the pragmatic, Clintonian Republican who can pick the lock of the White House. I don’t know if he can beat Obama — we’ll know more three or four years from now — but he’s probably the money folks’ best bet to win the nomination.

The real interesting thing will be whether Mitt wants to run. He’ll be 68 in 2012, and while that’s young compared to John McCain, it still is relatively old for a Presidential candidate. Additionally, Mitt will have been out of office for six years by the time 2012 rolls around; he’ll need to find something to do between now and then that doesn’t involve dressage.

2. Fmr. Gov. Mike Huckabee, R-Ark.

The Huckster has a nice sinecure at Fox News, and a lot of love from the right. That combined with the implosion of Sarah Palin should help him to the early lead among the firebreathers, and set him up as the leader of the populist wing.

Huckabee will be opposed by the fiscal conservatives, as he was in 2008, because he’s not an arbitrary tax-cutter, and indeed, because he speaks the language of the hoi polloi. While Romney would probably ease the party’s focus on social issues, Huckabee would tack left on economics, promising a Main Street over Wall Street focus. And he’d have an army of anti-abortion, anti-gay folks behind him, unless the Thrilla from Wasilla finds a way to remake herself in the next few years.

Huckabee’s problem is the same as Romney’s — he’ll be out of office for a long time before 2012 rolls around, and while being a Fox News guy is technically gainful employment, it’s not exactly elective office. He’ll need to find ways to keep in the mix between now and then.

3. Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La.

The Great Excorciser appeals to the part of the Republican brain that loved Sarah Palin. He’s done very little in his time in office, and indeed, isn’t well-known outside of Louisiana. But he’s not white, and so the part of the GOP brain that thinks promoting equality is primarily an exercise in selecting token people to point to loves Jindal.

Bobby could do well with the rabidly anti-choice and angrily anti-gay; the man’s performed an exorcism, so he’s clearly super-religious, although the really crazy crazies might not like him being Catholic. It’s not as clear that he’d be beloved by the fiscal conservatives, nor are his views on international issues well-known.

Jindal will be competing for oxygen with Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee, which could ultimately make things easier for Mitt Romney.

4. Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska

You know, the McCain campaign isn’t doing themselves any favors by blaming all their ills on her. Yes, it looks like Sarah was a bit of a know-nothing, and if she didn’t know Africa was a continent, not a country…yikes.

Still, the fact that the McCain campaign persisted with her on the ticket even after discovering she was more lightweight than a helium balloon proves once and for all that the judgment of John McCain was suspect, and that the campaign was doing anything but putting country first. The fact that the McCain campaign thought Palin should remain on the ticket, being put a heartbeat away from the presidency, just because she could help McCain win…well, if there’s been a more cynical, country-last ploy in the last half-century of American politics, I’d love to hear it.

That said, don’t count Palin out for 2012. For every story of her lack of gravitas, there’s a zealous follower who’s making support of Palin the litmus test for good conservatives. And sadly, there are quite a few people in the GOP who don’t see a lack of basic knowledge about issues as disqualifying in any way. While I think she starts behind Huckabee and Jindal in the race for the right, don’t count her out. She does have charisma, and that counts for a lot. And given how things play out, she could be a Senator by the time all’s said and done.

5. Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn.

Gov. Timmy represents the compromise candidate, a guy so opposed to taxes that even when he raises taxes he calls them “fees,” so they don’t count. A guy so opposed to spending money that he vetoed a transportation funding bill even after a bridge collapsed. And yet a guy who’s more than happy with the pro-life and anti-gay folks, whose wife is well-respected in the evangelical community. Pawlenty is bland and lukewarm, but he’s also probably the best candidate for a GOP that doesn’t want to make hard decisions about the future.

Pawlenty benefits from having been kept off the ticket with McCain; he’ll now have to decide in short order whether to seek a third term as Governor or leave to seek his fortune as a presidential candidate. My suspicion is that he’ll decide in late 2009 or early 2010 that a third term is not in the offing, opening the door for a potential gubernatorial run for Norm Coleman, whether employed or not. If Pawlenty decides to run for a third term, you can pretty much take it to the bank that he’s not thinking of running for President; re-election is no slam dunk, and he’d be hard-pressed to run for president after losing the governor’s race.

6. Fmr. Mayor Rudy Giuliani, R-N.Y.

Mayor 9/11 is the other guy who could lead the fiscal wing of the party. Yes, he’s avowedly pro-choice and is unable to credibly argue he’s anti-gay, but he’s a fiscal conservative with a big authoritarian streak, which makes him well-liked by a big chunk of the party. Of course, he won a grand total of one delegate to the national convention, so he may decide just to run for Governor of New York instead.

7. Fmr. Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla.

Hey, maybe the son of former President George H.W. Bush would be available! I mean, he’s the son of a former president; what could go wrong?

Okay, it’s a bit of a long shot, but Jeb is now widely known as the Bush son who isn’t a complete idiot. Maybe he could seek redemption for the Bush name. And heck, maybe the GOP would buy it.

Okay, they wouldn’t buy it. But still, it’s funny to think about.

8. Fmr. Ambassador Alan Keyes, I-Md.

Do you really think Alan Keyes is done in the GOP? Of course not! He’s not going to let a little thing like losing both the Republican and Constitution Party nominations keep him down! I’m sure he’s already plotting his big return, planning how he can be surly and obnoxious in the Iowa debates, and how best to tie the current economic downturn to legalized abortion.

Besides, what else is he gonna do? He’s gone the full Pat Paulsen at this point.

9. Gov. Charlie Crist, R-Fla.

Okay, he’s probably gay. But he’s also the well-respected moderate governor of a big state, one with a lot of electoral votes. He could potentially — potentially, mind you — run as a George H.W. Bush type, one focused on consensus-building and moderation.

I doubt he could get the nomination. But don’t be shocked to see him throw his hat in the ring.

10. Sen. Joe Lieberman, Joe-Conn.

Admit it, it’s possible. If Lieberman’s defenestrated from the Democratic caucus, he’s going to end up caucusing with the GOP. He’s pretty much doomed his re-election chances in 2012, so what else is he going to do? He might as well go out as a loser in both parties, right? That’ll show ‘em!

11. The Field

Every year some random nobody shows up to run. Could be Michael Steele or Saxby Chambliss or Lou Dobbs, you never know.