Yesterday, the Southern Leadership Conference held a straw poll. Straw polls are a favorite activity at high profile gatherings of party activists, but hold relatively little meaning in the scheme of things. For instance, Ron Paul won the CPAC straw poll, yet Ron Paul obviously isn’t going to be the Republican nominee.
But at the same time, the list of candidates that make it onto a straw poll should, at least, give us a good signal about who the favorites are. The Southern Leadership Conference put nine names on their ballot: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, current Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, Congressman Ron Paul, and Congressman Mike Pence. These are obviously not all of the legitimate contenders for the Republican nomination, but even still, a quick glance reveals that the overwhelming majority of these candidates would have no chance of defeating an incumbent president, much less the Obama campaign machine, in a general election.
Let’s take a look:
Newt Gingrich: Gingrich is too old, too polarizing, and too Washington to have a fighting chance at winning the presidency.
Sarah Palin: 55% of Americans view her unfavorably. That’s pretty much game over, but even if it wasn’t, the fact that the number holds among independents (55% of them view her unfavorably and 40% of that group said they view her in a “strongly unfavorable” light) also would be a knockout. 41% of all polled view her as strongly unfavorable. In short, that means she can write off 40% of the electorate before the race even starts. Her chances of beating Barack Obama are slim.
Mitt Romney: Deemed the “frontrunner” by many, Romney would get destroyed in a general election. Flip-flop. Flip-flop. Flip-flop. The label destroyed John Kerry, and Romney’s propensity to change his mind makes Kerry’s switches look tame to the point of irrelevance. And did I mention that Obamacare looks like Romneycare on steroids? No chance.
Mike Huckabee: Christians heart Huckabee. Independents do not. Next.
Gary Johnson: Who is Gary Johnson?
Rick Santorum: Staunch social conservatives need not apply for the presidency. Santorum tried to mandate the teaching of intelligent design nationwide in 2001. Not a single Latino in America is going to vote for this guy. Neither are independents, moderate Democrats or a lot of moderate Republicans. If he is lucky and Obama does a lot of things very, very wrong between now and 2012, Santorum might… just might lose 65-35 to Obama.
Ron Paul: The man is a fringe lunatic. The answer is no.
Mike Pence: Who is Mike Pence?
Tim Pawlenty: The only candidate of the batch that I am not 100% confident would get absolutely mauled by Barack Obama in 2012. A smart, competent, seemingly likeable candidate. Relatively moderate. But he is from Minnesota and not really popular there anymore. In March, a poll of 500 Minnesotans pegged his approval at 42%. If his own voters don’t like him, it will be hard for him to beat an incumbent in a general election for the presidency.
Yes, straw polls are meaningless, and the nine names on the Southern Leadership Conference straw poll ballot don’t meaningfully represent all of the possible candidates. Off the top of my head, I might add Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal…we could go on. And yes, a lot can happen. But honestly, how much worse can this actually get for President Obama? The economy has been poor (whether he really has that much control over it is besides the point), unemployment is soaring, there was an attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day, the deficit is beyond absurd, his party is on the ropes and may lose many seats in both houses of Congress in the upcoming midterms….and yet, even with all of these disasters, Barack Obama would absolutely wreck eight out of the nine candidates on the Southern Leadership Conference straw poll ballot. The ninth, Tim Pawlenty, is uninspiring to the left, the right, the middle. He has shown nothing to suggest that he can hang with a legitimate heavyweight and frankly, there are few if any reasons to believe that he could win a national race.
The GOP’s star is not coming. Obama became a superstar at the Democratic Convention in 2004 and by 2006 (two years before the election….), every single person that followed politics knew who Barack Obama was. We have neither a Hillary Clinton (a powerhouse presumed nominee) or a rising star who captured the nation’s attention. Paul Ryan is a darling amongst conservatives but about ten mainstream Americans have ever heard of him. Jindal was supposed to be the rising star, but he blew his “national unveiling” with an awkward response to Obama’s State of the Union.
Maybe something could change, maybe our guy will emerge, but probably not. Chances are Obama is here to stay. Republicans will need to gain back as much ground as possible in Congress, and then work to moderate the policies this president is going to push. “Kill the bill” didn’t work with healthcare. Let’s make sure we learn the right lessons. If we don’t, we might find ourselves shut out at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for much longer than “four more years.”