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Right to Be Concerned, But Not Panicked, About 2012

Monday morning I was in a supermarket parking lot in my neighborhood in Northern Virginia. An older gentleman was putting grocery bags in his truck, festooned with “NO OBAMA” and “McCain-Palin” stickers. Another shopper approached him, commenting, “I like your McCain sticker but who we gonna get this time!”

That sums up what most Republicans are wondering these days. To say that the most widely discussed contenders (Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, etc.) haven’t filled the base and party activists with optimism would be putting it mildly. That, in part, accounts for the effort to change Chris Christie’s mind about a 2012 run or lure some other candidate(s) into the race. The media narrative that Palin would instantly be the “front runner” (I guess, in the way, Rudy Giuliani was the front runner before it meant anything) is belied by the determination by so many Republicans to find some other, not yet obvious, candidate.

This is more, I think, than the usual desire to find that mythical perfect candidate with oodles of experience, a fresh face, and no baggage. There is unease that those who are running are deeply flawed (either hobbled within the party or not viable in a general election) or unexciting, while those most attractive aren’t interested this time around (e.g., Christie, Marco Rubio).

To a large degree, the concern is premature. If 2008 showed us anything, it was that an early start, high name recognition, and gobs of organization don’t necessarily mean all that much two years before the first primary. Otherwise, Giuliani or Romney would have been the last nominee. But the concern among Republican activists is a healthy sign — a recognition that electability, personality, experience, and ideology must all be balanced and that this is a very critical election, too critical to roll the dice on a shaky candidate. Along with the sober House GOP leaders has come recognition in the GOP ranks that not any Republican on the ballot can win, no matter how badly the Obama administration performs.

There’s no rush for the Republicans to find the right candidate, but the GOP may have learned some lessons: get viable candidates into the race, choose wisely, and don’t sit around waiting for Obama to complete his meltdown.