Believe it or not, but the 2012 election is less than two years away--and most Americans (myself included) already want it to be over with. (As a proper political scientist of sorts, I should normally be excited about this expressive outlet of our democracy--but what passes for campaigning anymore is tedious and test-marketed enough so that all the fun is drained out. The days of LBJ harassing a beagle or George Bush Sr. gawking at a checkout scanner are long over. But I digress.)
However, cynics take heart--keep in mind that last election at this time, there were already eighteen declared candidates between the two major parties. As of right now, it's pretty much just Newt Gingrich forming an exploratory commission. (To be fair, the Democrats won't have any candidates beyond Obama himself--any opposition he has will be dispatched quickly.) So things are off to a slow start, which is probably a good thing--the campaign season is probably long enough as it is.
That said--why are things so quiet? It's not like Republicans aren't licking their chops to take on Obama. The problem seems clear to me.
Take a look at the list of potential contenders: New Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels, Mike Huckabee, Jon Huntsman, Michelle Bachmann, John Bolton, Jeb Bush, Fred Thompson, Ron Paul, Haley Barbour, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal, Jim DeMint, Rick Santorum, Mike Pence, John Thune, and Rudy Giuliani, with Herman Cain, The Donald, and--what the hell--Jimmy McMillan thrown in for good measure. Hardly half of these are household names, and the other half are also-rans and nutbags. Aside from Romney and possibly Pawlenty, none of these are really standout stars of the Republican Party--they are solid politicians, to be sure, and none would be a disaster*, but can you see any of them energizing a campaign like Obama did?
The problem is the same problem both parties have had for a long time: your base wants an extremist, while the people want a moderate. The base is what selects the candidate, but it's the electorate at large that isntalls the President. That's the nature of politics; sure, a Reagan or an Obama slip in once in a while, but by and large the mere necessity of reaching for the middle of the bell curve forces one to moderate their message.
So what do the Republicans do? All of the standout stars that they have were forged in the Tea Party movement--looking at the list above, most of them rose to prominence just in the last two or three years, and the rest were maybe one election cycle ahead of their time. I don't find this list to be particularly appetizing. There are plenty of "acceptable" candidates in relation to what I think is important, but "acceptable" isn't what wins elections.
The Pledge: Even if defeating Obama was a sure thing--which it most certainly isn't--the Republicans will still find some awesome and creative way to screw it all up.
*This is a lie. Plenty of these would be a disaster.