Who among us can contain their excitement? The GOP presidential- primary season has begun!
By my count, 24 people benefit from nontrivial presidential buzz: Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, John Thune, Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels, Mike Pence, Rick Santorum, Haley Barbour, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan, David Petraeus, Ron Paul, Jeb Bush, John Bolton, Bob McDonnell, Jim DeMint, Chris Christie, Herman Cain, Gary Johnson, Judd Gregg, Marco Rubio and Rick Perry.
With a heavy heart, I take it upon myself to winnow the field. Half are almost surely not running.
Earlier this year, there was a lot of talk about Petraeus running. But then the Army general gave a lot of dull, substantive speeches in which he didn’t say anything about ethanol or the Hawkeye State’s divine right to hold the first-in-the-nation contest.
Rubio, Ryan and Jindal, respectively the incoming junior senator from Florida, the incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee and the governor of Louisiana, are all wisely sitting out the presidential contest to concentrate on their to-do lists, though the GOP’s three golden boys are ripe vice-presidential picks.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and the governors of New Jersey, Virginia and Texas — Christie, McDonnell and Perry — probably aren’t running, though they all enjoy deep admiration on the right, especially Christie, whose YouTube videos are passed around like samizdat. Also, there’s growing buzz that Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and a fierce defender of his top-tier contender status, may not run because he’s got a big new contract with Fox News in the works.
South Carolina Sen. DeMint, the Tea Party’s man on the inside, has said he’s not running but acts like he might be. Meanwhile, Gregg, New Hampshire’s retiring senator, acts likes he’s not running but hasn’t ruled it out. Pence, the Indiana representative, definitely wants to run but now may switch to the Indiana governorship.
Barbour, perhaps the sharpest political operator with a natural Southern constituency in a Southern-dominated party, could be a front-runner (and a hilarious, adept debate opponent for Obama), but his plans remain murky.
That leaves 11 who are probably, but not definitely, running: Romney, Gingrich, Palin, Pawlenty, Santorum, Bolton, Daniels, Cain, Johnson, Paul and Thune. Five are unlikely to last long as serious contenders, not least because talk-show and grass-roots popularity doesn’t necessarily win in the “money primary.”