Several months ago, Republicans began to kvetch about the weak field of contenders who were offering to do combat with Barack Obama for control of the White House. At that time, there were seven or so candidates - but some were not even going to bother competing in the Iowa caucuses. It got so bad that Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad issued a statement saying that Iowa would welcome all comers, ultra-conservative or not.
These turns of events prompted a lot of soul searching in Republican circles about who else should run. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush? Fla. Governor Scott? New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie? Even newly elected Florida Senator Marco Rubio crossed the smacking lips of GOP party strategists as they hoped for the perfect candidate to beat Obama.
In case you already forgot Donald Trump sort of entered the picture and promptly shot to the top of the charts. He was different, not a “professional politician,” and said he would run the government like a business. He was rich and wouldn’t need to bend over for special moneyed interest groups. But the Trump tornado proved to be only a small dust devil, you know the kind that kicks up suddenly in the Wal-Mart parking lot, stirs up a bunch of trash and then is gone as fast as it appeared.
Still needing a “real” contender a miracle happened. After a bunch of big money GOP players talked to Texas Governor Rick Perry and convinced him the country needed a bold new leader.
The clouds disappeared, and it was a new morning in GOP America. The dearth of candidates who could satisfy the Tea Party, do well in the Iowa caucuses and other primaries, get the nomination and go on to win in November of 2012 was finally over. Perry blew into town (in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina) and some of my conservative friends in the GOP said, “Yes he can!” (Beat Obama, that is.)
Perry sucked a substantial number of supporters from Michelle Bachmann, whose numbers started to tank. Perry pulled way ahead of Mitt Romney, and even in New Hampshire there was excitement about the brawny Texan. Mitt Romney was suddenly in deep trouble and alarm bells went off that he needed to reenergize his campaign.
As they were seeking fresh blood for 2012 a delegation of prominent had gone on a trip to New Jersey. Their goal was to convince Gov. Chris Christie to run. He said no, but Perry's arrival on the scene seemed to be enough.
Then Perry began to attend presidential debates.
Opposition research from the other GOP candidates questioned his credentials as a conservative, and the blogosphere found unappealing sound bites gems in his campaign book. Perry turned out t be a disappointing debater and - surprise - not conservative enough: He wants in-state college tuition for children of illegal immigrants and is against a border fence.
Herman Cain somehow won the Florida straw poll earlier this week, and it was enough for some Republican strategists to grab and pull the fire alarm.
I don’t want to be a party pooper, but Chris Christie will not go down smoothly with Iowa’s Tea Party-infused Republican base. He'll very likely need to skip Iowa - it’s too late to start a caucus campaign anyway - and concentrate on New Hampshire.
Mitt Romney is well-rooted in the Granite State, and I seriously doubt that he can compete strongly there. The next target of opportunity is South Carolina, and again I am not seeing the “Christie fit”.
There is the added realization that the minute he were to jump in, he would have the entire field of GOP contenders descend on him like a pack of hounds, and those who have invested a year and much coin and family time in this race will not sit idly back to see someone suddenly cut in line.
The irony is that Mitt Romney is polling the strongest against Obama and has a good campaign organization in place. Why look for yet another contender to add to an already diverse and extensive field? I guess the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence.
Steffen W. Schmidt, University Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Iowa State University, WNYC blogger, and chief Political correspondent of Insider Iowa.