With New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie finally having closed the door for good on a bid for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, the field of contestants is now set. It will only get smaller from here on. Only the political equivalent of an asteroid hitting planet Earth could occasion the emergence of another major candidate.
So, let’s size-up each of the principal candidates:
Mitt Romney — He looks presidential and is a fairly decent debater, but he’s also a flip-flopper extraordinaire whose relatively moderate positions of the past make him persona non grata among hard-core conservatives. On the other hand, he would probably have a better chance than the others to defeat President Obama, which makes him, at this point, the favorite to win the nomination.
Rick Perry — He’s a loose cannon, a weak debater and, most tellingly, a guy Obama would love to face in the general election. His rhetoric on Social Security is an albatross, and his record on illegal immigration has alienated him from much of the Tea Party gang. His chances of winning the nomination are fading fast.
Herman Cain — His business background as a pizza magnate is a plus, and his style has charmed much of the GOP base. But his positions on most issues are weak, and his embrace of Islamophobia — especially with regard to the Sharia law bugaboo — casts him as a bit of a kook. He’s a long-shot, at best, for the nomination.
Ron Paul — His small army of hard-core libertarians provide him sufficient funding to stay in the race as long as he wants, but he has no chance whatever of becoming the nominee. He’s a cranky, eccentric old man whose positions make him utterly unelectable beyond his Texas congressional district.
Michele Bachmann — She was the flavor of the month (or a few weeks, anyway) when she won the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa but has since faded to insignificance. Her misstatements are innumerable, and her campaign is running very low on money. She might do well in the Iowa caucuses in January, if she lasts that long, but thereafter lies only oblivion for her candidacy.
Newt Gingrich — This guy has more baggage than a carousel at O’Hare Airport. His stint as speaker of the U.S. House in the 1990s ended in ignominy, and his marital record has left him with rice scars and a trail of infidelities. He’s a bookish guy, a smart guy, but his condescending style isn’t going to cut it. He has no chance whatever.
Jon Huntsman — A former governor with a fairly good record, he’s too moderate to pass muster with the Republican base. If he does fairly well in the New Hampshire primary (where Romney is the clear favorite at this point), he might remain at least marginally viable. But he’s only a long-shot for the nomination.
Rick Santorum — He’s the homophobes’ homophobe, a prickly theocrat who got bounced from his U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania by a thumping margin. He has no chance.
Gary Johnson (not pictured above) — He’s a former governor of New Mexico and, like Ron Paul, a libertarian. He’s not going anywhere.