It would seem to me that there were only ever two candidates in the Republican presidential race who got in with any serious expectations of actually winning. That would be Mitt Romney, who never stopped running for president since 2008, and Rick Perry, who came into the race with strong poll numbers and truckloads of campaign cash.
The others had entirely different motivations for getting in the race. Some, like Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum and Michelle Bachmann hoped to further their political careers down the road and saw raising their profiles though a presidentail campaign as the way to do it.
Others, like Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich saw it as a way to boost and/or develop their name brand and increase their personal worth in the form of increased speaking fees and book sales.
And then there is Ron Paul who is an old-fashioned perennial candidate representing a small but devoted minority faction.
But now, due to the stubborn resistance to Romney and Perry’s spectacular flameout, less-than-serious candidates have been allowed to rise to the surface rather unexpectedly. I’m sure no one was more surprised than Herman Cain when he became the frontrunner and suddenly was expected to know things like where Uzbeki-beki-beki-stan is and what U.S. policy in Libya has been. And the “9-9-9” plan was never meant to be anything more than a soundbite to drum up interest in his books and pump up his future lecture fees. And, of course, the fact that his personal life had never been fully vetted out is the biggest clue that he was never intending to be anything more than a novelty candidate so that he could cash in on the free and initially benign media exposure of a national campaign.
Gingrich too was just looking to maintain his brand name and keep his foot in the ring so that he could continue to play the role of “seasoned political insider” which is what fuels his private enterprises. That was apparent when his campaign staff abandoned ship halfway into the race. But Gingrich is also just enough of an egomaniac that he will probably continue the charade, pretending that he is a serious candidate right up until the bitter end.
Now, to be fair, one could say that Barack Obama would have probably fit into the category of someone just trying to advance their political career and build name recognition for a future race back in 2008. But he ended up winning the primary and had to ramp up quickly to show that he could be a serious and substantive candidate. I think Tim Pawlenty could have done something similar if his campaign had caught fire early on, and maybe even Rick Santorum (who might have fared better had he not lost his last election). But Bachmann, I believe, was never more than just a fringe candidate, not unlike Dennis Kucinich was for the Democrats in 2008.
So what happens now?
If Gingrich actually wins this thing then Republicans can kiss their chances of victory in November goodbye. There is no way someone with as much baggage as Gingrich could survive a national race that is not dominated by Tea Partiers the way the Republican primary is.
Perhaps if by some miracle the entire nation suffers mass amnesia and forgets the past three months, then maybe Rick Perry could come back and win the nomination. Maybe.
But most likely it will be up to Mitt Romney to carry the Republican banner next year and his best chance of winning will depend on circumstances largely beyond his control. Only if the economy starts to tank again and/or shows no signs of improvement before the election will Republicans have a chance. That is why they are so adamant about refusing to support recovery efforts today. Anything that boosts the economy between now and next November will also serve to boost Obama’s re-election chances.