(REAL TIMES MEDIA)—Of the almost eight men and women who stepped forward to run for president of the United States under the Republican banner this year just about all of them at some time have been the frontrunners in the race. However, given how long many of these candidates have been running, and how much of a known quantity most of them are it is surprising that there is still no consensus amongst Republicans as to who will carry the party banner against Obama next year. What’s more, as we have headed into the final weeks the person carrying that banner seems to shift ever more rapidly. Is this a case of harmless electoral flirtations before the final coronation of Mitt Romney or have the constant candidate bubbles indicated something far more unsettling beneath the surface of the Republican field?
From the beginning of 2011 former governor Mitt Romney has always been the frontrunner in the nomination for the GOP, but this title always had an asterisk after it. Namely the public and the press and the party were all waiting to see if over popular political figures would step into the fray and either challenge or supplant Romney who seemed like a safe choice. First it was Mike Huckabee from Arkansas but he decided that television money from Fox was more appealing than sleeping on tour busses and travelling around the country for a year. Then there was Haley Barbour, who was exciting for about a month before he made it clear that 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was not his dream house. Jeb Bush, stained by his older brother’s terrible job performance from 2000 to 2008 wouldn’t dare run in 2012, and Sarah Palin had become something of a sideshow. By late summer it was apparent to all but the most die-hard of Republican supporters that the field was more or less set.
Then a funny thing happened on the way to the fall and the close of the debt ceiling debate. Mitt Romney became the more solidified frontrunner and everyone in the press went crazy trying to find someone else to do the job. First it was Paul Ryan from Wisconsin becoming the new pin-up boy for the fiscal conservatives, then it was Chris Christie becoming the new champion of populism from a typically blue state, and of course there were still a few people out there begging for Sarah Palin to jump in. But almost like dominos all of these people claimed they weren’t running which began the merry go round we have today.
Since Saturday Aug. 13, the day of the Iowa Straw Poll (won by Michelle Bachman) there have been four different Republican candidates to take the lead in the GOP nomination race in national polls. Perry announced on the 13th and led for weeks, then he flopped and Herman Cain came in, then he flopped now Newt Gingrich has come on strong. If you add in Bachman’s win in Iowa the only Republicans to have NOT led the field this year are John Huntsman, Rich Santorum and Ron Paul. Essentially more than half of the field has taken the lead at some point. What does these musical chairs really mean for American voters?
It has finally become apparent that Mitt Romney is the best candidate to run against Barack Obama if Republicans want to win, but at the same time he will have an extreme enthusiasm gap with the president. One or two lead changes in the final minutes of a game means you’ve got two competitive teams, but four or five means that nobody’s got the heart to take over and put the other team down. Romney’s inability to establish himself as the inevitable candidate, the one with the best national numbers and the most competitive with Obama is a sign of weakness in his campaign. Without question Republicans will rally around him and vote and volunteer to kick Obama out of office. But if passion pushes poll numbers, and it does, his campaign will be severely lacking. No one has ever won a president election by getting people to vote against the other guy. They have to be voting for you, and the fact that Republican primary voters are still scrambling around trying to find some way to avoid pulling the level for Romney shows that his margin of error to be the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is going to be very very small.
(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio.)