Not exactly a field of GOP dreams

The plan devised by Republicans to arrange a pretty heavy schedule of debates for candidates vying for the 2012 nomination is, on its face, a commendable representation of democracy in action. Still, one would hardly be surprised if there’s considerable second-guessing among the strategists responsible for setting this course, given the extent to which the debates have produced results not at all flattering to this alleged cream of the GOP crop.

Even at this relatively late stage, after so much palaver, so much posturing from the declared candidates in the field, talk has not subsided of some new addition to the mix who figures to provide the party faithful with the “Aha!” moment so far lacking from any of the current brood. For a while New Jersey’s Chris Christie apparently loomed as that potential knight-errant, until his all but Shermanesque announcement a while back, that he’d rather pass. There should be no foreclosing the possibility that behind the scenes, a feverish search endures for the so far elusive golden boy (or gal) of the party’s dreams. And we can be pretty confident that any such late-hour arrival at the arena would be someone flying flaming red conservative colors.

Reason for this, of course, is that it is by now well past the time of referencing a “conservative wing” in the GOP. More accurate is it that a conservative “wing” is the GOP. Which makes it problematic when a Mitt Romney emerges as the party’s presumptive nominee…which is how the 2012 tea leaves now read. Echoes of 2008 here, where a guy perceived as not firmly planted in right-flank soil looks to be the standard bearer.

For his part, Romney, ever the chameleon, would have us believe that his conservative bona fides are as legit as the next guy’s. That claim clearly doesn’t wash for a lot of the hyperactive right, as evidenced by Romney’s poll numbers among Republicans, while placing him always at or near the top, never extending to a “clear” or “overwhelming” favorite differential. It certainly doesn’t help his cause that the debates have turned the spotlight on Romney’s equivocating attempts at explaining positions and/or policies in the not too distant past that seem at odds with what he wants to project today.

Compared to others in the race, Romney is perhaps none the worse for wear, as far as dealing with the debate forum as nemesis. He has come across as slick and pretty much under control – looking for all the world a bit too perfect to be real. There may well be a sense in the Romney camp of inevitability about his cornering the nomination, which could be why he is at times given to over-the-top bluster that seems hardly forged from anything resembling well thought-out policy. Like, when he has inveighed against the Obama record on America being kept safe and maintaining a robust world presence. Given the notable foreign policy successes on that front that Obama can boast, that even Republicans cannot but acknowledge – bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki, the toppling of Gaddafi, etc – you wonder why Romney, supposedly the cool one, would think to go there, resorting to rhetoric that doesn’t figure to be very convincing even in the anti-Obama universe.

As for the others, they should have Romney’s problems. The conservatives’ quest for a Romney alternative has centered on the likes of Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, the aforementioned Christie… (some of such bent would dare suggest that Herman Cain’s name belongs in that group, but don’t you believe it). Like clockwork, they have all enjoyed limelight flashes that have quickly given way to nosedive. Bachmann’s straw poll win in Iowa earlier in the proceedings is all but forgotten these days, her extremist positions on just about everything probably earning her a place well down the reserve bench.

Perry was heralded as the answer to the right wing’s prayers and his poll numbers duly bore this out. Maybe he ought to have played it coy and not formally joined the fray when he did. Once in the thick of it, it didn’t take much time for Perry to confirm his lightweight status, crowning his series of hoof-in-mouth episodes with that recent debate meltdown when he couldn’t name the three departments of government he intended to eliminate. At this juncture, Perry and the presidency don’t look too compatible. Rather, thoughts perhaps should appropriately turn to the people of Texas, and how this national exposure of their governor’s inanities has come to rest on that electorate.

Poll slippage by Perry and court jester Cain has somehow given some kind of new lease on life to Newt Gingrich. It’s a good wager that Gingrich will tank just as surely as his fellow competitors for the right wing’s “favorite son” imprimatur. Reports that he has raked in substantial consulting fees from areas he now depicts as enemy territory will likely accelerate this second Gingrich fade from the ranks of credible presidential prospects.

This cascade of Republican stumbles should make for halcyon days among team Obama members. In a time when affairs of state are on cruise control, folks would be chomping at the bit in the president’s reelection camp. But these aren’t such times. There is too much of a dispiriting overhang, capable of scrambling things beyond anyone’s imaginings.