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Is the GOP Race Really Down to Five Candidates?

The man who is probably the best newspaper columnist that ever was, George F. Will, has a typically tough column about the Republican presidential field in which he savages Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich on grounds that both of them talk about Barack Obama in ways that are unhelpful to their cause, not to mention stupid and a little crazy. He calls them “careless, delusional, egomaniacal, spotlight-chasing candidates to whom the sensible American majority would never entrust a lemonade stand, much less nuclear weapons.” Ow. And then there’s this:

To the notion that Obama has a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” worldview, the sensible response is: If only. Obama’s natural habitat is as American as the nearest faculty club; he is a distillation of America’s academic mentality; he is as American as the other professor-president, Woodrow Wilson. A question for former history professor Gingrich: Why implicate Kenya?

Brilliant. But what of Will’s conclusion?

Let us not mince words. There are at most five plausible Republican presidents on the horizon — Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Utah governor and departing ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, former Massachusetts governor Romney and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty. So the Republican winnowing process is far advanced. But the nominee may emerge much diminished …

If Will is right, then the right is in critical condition heading into 2012. Aside from Daniels, who deserves inclusion in any list of plausibles no matter the controversy he has courted by calling for a truce on social issues and owing to the fact that he has been without question America’s best governor for the past half-decade, none of the others on this list has a prayer. Romney is the man who invented the individual mandate in health care, and now seeks the presidency in a campaign that will revolve around ObamaCare? He’ll be lucky to win a single primary, let alone the nomination. I’ve enjoyed Haley Barbour since I worked with him briefly nearly a quarter-century ago in the White House, thought he did a brilliant job as RNC chairman, and I gather he’s been a very effective governor — but his lobbying record will kill him as a candidate. Pawlenty ended his tenure as governor of Minnesota with an approval rating under 50 percent, which suggests the kind of staying power he might have even with primary voters who liked him. And Huntsman? A chemical-company magnate who was governor of a small state before quitting that job to serve as Obama’s ambassador to China? Granted, he has the resources to raise his name ID, but so what?

Obviously, someone has to be the Republican nominee. But that someone is not on this list, and it sure won’t be Gingrich — who is not only on his third marriage, not only served his first wife divorce papers in a cancer ward, but also has a large number of politicians who actually served with him in Congress determined to make sure he doesn’t make it to the nominating convention. Nor will it be Huckabee, who was a genuinely surprising and interesting candidate in 2008 when he was unknown but now doesn’t have the “Hey, who is that guy?” thing going for him.

Once again, we have to be reminded of a few things. First, the candidate for president who won in 1992 didn’t declare his intention to seek office until the fall of 1991. Second, Barack Obama declared his candidacy in February 2007 and promptly wasted six months of money and energy and bad debating appearances. He gained no traction against Hillary Clinton. It wasn’t until October that he actually figured out how to run, and he might have spared himself the trouble if he’d waited until then.

So what does this tell us? It tells us that the person who can win has either not reached the point of deciding to run or that he is biding his time until later. It could be Chris Christie. It could be Paul Ryan. It could be Marco Rubio. It could be Bobby Jindal. One hears that the 2016 GOP race will feature all these guys in a superstar battle. If that one could, so could this one. And there’s plenty of time. Plenty.