The media’s great obsession from the moment Obama took office was to identify the “leader” of the Republican Party. Was it Sarah Palin? Rush Limbaugh? The nonsensical game — for opposition parties rarely have a single standard bearer — was intended mostly to fuel the storyline of Republican disarray and dissension. With the pre-pre-campaign for 2012 underway, consisting mainly of book tours and Republican gatherings, the media is at it again. Ron Paul won a straw poll! Oooh, now Romney won one. What does it all mean? Very little actually. The tea-leaf reading is all a bit silly and very premature.
For once, the Republicans aren’t being sucked into the media narrative. This report explains that the GOP base is stubbornly refusing to select its nominee more than two years ahead of time. Some savvy voices explain:
[Gov. Bobby] Jindal said the current levels of grassroots energy will also preempt any crowning of a favored candidate.“They don’t want to be told who to vote for,” the governor said, referring to the party foot soldiers. “This isn’t going to be a pre-ordained election. There is this reputation in the Republican Party that you wait your turn and then when it’s your turn, you run. I think the voters are saying we want to make the decision, this is democracy, we’ll decide who we want to represent us and lead us.” “The activists would resist any attempt from party leaders or anybody else to try to pre-ordain a process or a pick,” he added.
The expectation among Republicans is that field will grow – and will include names who haven’t previously been considered.
“Every cycle that happens, there is a surprise,” said Liz Cheney following her own address to the conference.
Or, as Jindal put it: “Who would have thought a year into President Bush’s second term, that Sen. Obama would be the next president of the United States?”
And there is little to be gained this time around in being the designated front runner, the establishment choice. For one thing, the base is decidedly impervious to advice from Washington power brokers. (Ask Charlie Crist, if you doubt this.) For another, it targets the candidate for an onslaught from the Obami and their mainstream media supplicants. As Mary Matalin reminds us: “Look at what happened to poor George Allen . . . He got a big target put on his back. If I were thinking about 2012 seriously, I would lay low.” Well, many of the contenders aren’t exactly laying low — they are building name identification (Tim Pawlenty), trying to bolster 2010 candidates to cement potential support for themselves (Mitt Romney), blanketing the media (Sarah Palin), keeping the door ajar (Mitch Daniels), and making fiery speeches to the base (Rick Perry). But there will be time enough to pick the front runners and assess the field. In the meantime, there are midterm elections to win, an indictment of Obamaism to press, and an RNC to clean up. That should be more than enough for now.