There is a bizarre obsession with declaring in the fall of 2010 that one candidate or another is the “front-runner” in the GOP presidential primary. Sarah Palin will be the front-runner, the pundits pronounce, because she’s so very popular with the base (but maybe not as popular as the mainstream media imagine). Mitt Romney is the front-runner, we are told, because he is “next in line” and will have loads of money and name recognition. This is all hogwash.
Rudy Giuliani was the “front-runner” for all of 2007 — and then the race actually started. Romney had tons of money last time, but John McCain’s pauper campaign beat him. (And if anything, Romney is in worse shape this time with the RomneyCare cloud over his head.) It’s daft to talk of front-runners when the candidates aren’t set, we are two years from any votes being cast, and there is such obvious discontent with the most likely contenders.
The 2012 polls mean absolutely nothing at this point, reflecting only current familiarity with the candidates. Bestowing front-runner status on this or that candidate provides reporters and pundits with a way of organizing their storylines (“front-runner stumbles”), but it’s not informative. What would be illuminating is to probe the strengths and weaknesses of each, the source of support (financial and otherwise) each might have, and the potential strategy for each. But, by gosh, that takes a lot of work. So much easier just to debate who the “front-runner” is and ponder whether Palin will run or not.