The most prominent attribute of a successful presidential candidate, in my opinion, is his or her desire to win. As we saw in the last election, very qualified and popular candidates in the primary fissled out quickly. I'm specifically thinking about Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani. I think that most conservatives would have been thrilled to get behind a Fred Thompson campaign, but it was abundantly clear that he did not have fire in the belly for a fight. Likewise with moderates and Giuliani. During the primary, McCain was a pit bull, and he was rewarded with the nomination. I believe that he got worn out in the later stage of the general election campaign, and he started making bad decisions (returning to Washington to "save" the Financial System, pulling back from Michigan, etc.), and he stopped attacking Obama. In short, he lost his desire to win, and he was soundly beaten by a hungrier opponent.
Looking to the 2012 election, I believe that the candidate's desire-factor should be foremost in Republican/Conservative primary voters' minds. More specifically that the candidate has a single-minded focus on the task, the energy to run the whole race, and the intestinal fortitude to raise a billion dollars. In a sense, a broken-glass-candidate (willing to crawl through broken glass to reach the Presidency).
Even though it is very early in the election cycle, there are some desire and stamina indicators that are apparent. At this point, you'd expect the serious candidates to have set up a PAC, have started to build a national organization, have built relationships by helping others Republicans get elected, and to be removing all unnecessary distractions. We can also look into a candidate's background to get indicators on their ability to sustain a fight. It is through this lense that I'm screening the current list of potential candidates. I'll worry about policy positions within the field of the highly motivated and capable candidates. The list of candidates (by order of PAC money raised):
- PAC: Senate Conservatives Fund, $1.1M cash on hand ($9.1M raised)
- Organization: Demint is a darling of the Tea Party movement, and would quicly garner their support if he ran. He has not done any significant organizing, though.
- Focus/Desire: Demint has explicitly stated that he is not running, with statements like: "It's not something I desire", and "No intention, no plans". He seems to be focused on the role of kingmaker.
- PAC: Free and Strong America, $1.1M cash on hand ($3.6M Raised).
- Organization: Romney retains much of his organization from 2008, and is spending money on this further building this organization and on helping other Republican candidates. Romney has not made significant inroads with the Tea Party organizations (he backed Bennet over Lee in Utah), which may limit his 2012 viability.
- Focus/Desire: Romney's singular focus seems to be on winning the Presidency, and he is working on this largely behind the scenes. He has no family distractions, he has enough money to be a full-time candidatee, and has not involved himself in other distracting activities.
- PAC: America's Foundation PAC, $41K cash on hand ($2.6M Raised)
- Organization: Santorum is using his PAC money to build a national donor base, and to a lesser extent a national organization. His organization is focused on social and national defense conservatives.
- Focus/Desire: Santorum seems singularly focused on the 2012 Presidential Race, and is doing the majority of this work behind the scenes. He is young, and likely has the stamina necessary for a long race.
- PAC: SarahPAC, $928K cash on hand ($2.1M Raised)
- Organization: Palin has focused more on making political friends within the Tea Party movement, and increasing her public profile. She has focused less on building out a national organization or on building support within the GOP establishment.
- Focus/Desire: Says she'll run if there is no other candidate who can carry the Conservative flag. This run-by-defaul position indicates that her heart isn't fully engaged yet. Palin has added more distractions: FoxNews contributor, Television Show, books, and providing commentary on almost every topic through Facebook. It seems that she is focusing her efforts on bolstering her family's finances at a pace that would be consistent with preparing to run in 2016. If she does decide to run, she has demonstrated that she has the stamina for a long race (frequent trips to the lower 48, survived a book tour, and she's an athlete).
- PAC: HuckPAC, $195K cash on hand ($1.77M Raised)
- Organization: Huckabee was not strong on organization in the last presidential primary, but still finished an impressive second. It's not clear that he's focusing significantly more on organization for 2012, and instead he is again relying on his likeable personality and his connection to the Evangelical community.
- Focus/Desire: Huckabee has numerous distractions, including a TV show, Radio Show, a band, and many speaking engagements. He did demonstrate a strong desire in 2008, as he hung on in the primary far beyond what was practical. For 2012, he has yet to transform himself into a full-time candidate, leading me to believe that his desire has waned some. He seems to be having too much fun being a celebrity.
- PAC: Freedom First PAC, $884K cash on hand ($1.28M Raised - PAC started in late 2009)
- Organization: Building an organization with establishment players in both organization and fundraising (Vin Weber, William Strong).
- Focus/Desire: While Pawlenty is definitely serious about this presidential run, he recently tipped his hand that, perhaps, he isn't quite ready. Pawlenty expressed regret for not running for a third term as governor, because of the change in the makeup of the Minnesota legislature. If Pawlenty was indeed laser-focused on the White House, I'd expect he would barely notice that home-state opportunity. Pawlenty remains a serious candidate, but, his eye isn't completely on the ball.
- PAC: HaleysPAC, $390K cash on hand ($1.07M Raised)
- Organization: Barbour is a sitting Governor, and is in good standing with the Republican establishment. As a successful chairman of the Republican Governors Association, he has the ability to quickly build a nationwide organization. If he is successful at building support from the Tea Party organizations, he will be a formidable candidate.
- Focus/Desire: Barbour has not yet committed to running. He appears to be more of an opportunist (seeing an opening with a weakened Obama) as opposed to looking to fulfill a lifelong ambition. His age and his lack of physical conditioning brings his stamina into question.
- PAC: American Solutions PAC (different than the 527 of the same name), $80K cash on hand ($705K Raised)
- Organization: Given Newt's connections within the Republican Party (and his 527), it isn't important that he start building an election organization this early in the process. If he gains traction with his candidacy through the debates and by pressing the flesh in Iowa and New Hampshire, he will be able to quickly assemble a strong team.
- Focus/Desire: For the past year, Gingrich has been a tease, taking his own advice to draw out the decision to help him stay in the limelight. He states that this time around he is very serious about running, though this seems like he's backing into the race as opposed to busting down the door. His desire seems to be based on the weakness of Obama, not due to an insatiable desire for the White House. Gingrich also routinely states: "Calista and I will make a decision probably at the end of February." The visual on this is a man hiding behind his wife's skirt. Newt has many outside distractions (books, speaking engagement, commentary, etc.), but there is no doubt that he has the ability to quickly drop these and focus on a campaign if he's so motivated. His stamina might be in question due to his age and his lack of physical conditioning, but, I think that a grueling schedule is the norm for him, and that has the ability to be vibrant thoughout an entire campaign.
- PAC: M.I.C.H.E.L.E PAC, $200K cash on hand ($625K Raised)
- Organization: A favorite of the Tea Party, Bachmann has a significant constituency, though no significant organization at this point. She was instrumental in assisting Tea Party candidates in the last election.
- Focus/Desire: Given the overwhelming challenges she has taken on with her family (5 children, 23 foster children), she clearly demonstrates that she has the endless energy necessary for a national campaign. She has not tipped her hand, yet, on her level of seriousness.
- PAC: Principles Exhalt a Nation PAC, $56K cash on hand ($615K Raised)
- Organization: Pence appears to have no organization.
- Focus/Desire: Pence's supporters seem to have more ambition for his career than he does. He was encouraged by Bill Crystal to run for Senate, which he didn't. He as also encouraged by others to run for Minority Leader in the House, and he lost. He is now being encouraged by others to run for President, and he is starting to explore this. I believe that his ambition should be strongly questioned at this point.
- PAC: Our America PAC (not clear that it has significant money)
- Organization: None that is apparent
- Focus/Desire: Johnson is a former New Mexico Governor (term limited out). There is no doubt that he has the physical stamina for a race, as he is an athlete, and has successfully climbed Mount Everest. One of his "principles of good government" is to be willing to do whatever it takes to get your job done. This demonstrates that he knows it's important to finish any fight that he starts.
- PAC: Heartland Values PAC, $173K cash on hand ($807K raised)
- Organization: Thune has a national donor base that he attained during his race against Tom Daschle. Thune also has good connections within the Republican establishment. Outside of this, he doesn't appear to have built a significant organization.
- Focus/Desire: At this point Thune is just testing the waters. He seems to be more opportunist as opposed to singularly focused.
- PAC: Liberty PAC, $114K cash on on hand ($183K raised)
- Organization: Paul is supported by a very motivated group of libertarians. He has not cultivated the support of establishment Republicans.
- Focus/Desire: In previous elections, Paul has been singularly focused on pushing his agenda of returning the government to its constitutional mandate. He has focused less on the retail politics necessary for a successful run. As of now, he has not decided on a run in 2012. But if he does decide to run, I feel that this will be more of a decision to "participate in the primaries" as opposed to running to win.
- PAC: Solutions America PAC, $0.1K cash on hand ($6K raised)
- Organization: Giuliani has many political connections, though he doesn't appear to have started organizing yet.
- Focus/Desire: In the 2008 primary, Giuliani waited until the Florida primary to compete in the race, which turned out to be a disasterous move. It's not clear that he's being any more aggressive in this election cycle.
There are many potential candidates mentioned, who I don't believe deserve serious consideration from the standpoint of a demonstrated desire: John Bolton, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Liz Cheney, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Scott Brown, Bob McDonnell, Chris Christie, George Pataki, John Cornyn, Mitch Daniels, Jon Huntsman, Jr., and Judd Gregg. Many on this list have shown that the are motivated to play on the national stage, but, they have not taken tangible steps that show us their inner motivation.
I believe that Obama will not be as formidable of an adversary as he was in 2008. I see him appearing to the electorate as more like President H. W. Bush did during the 1992 elections. When Bush checked his watch during the debate, he communicated that he was detached from the election. Obama, I believe, will come off even worse, seeming aloof, entitled, and an elitist. Also, Obama thrives on adulation, and I don't believe that enough adulation will be there to hold his interest. The only thing that might motivate him is if he smells the blood in the water from a Republican candidate who is still unsure about winning. This is why I'm focused at this point on finding a candidate who is in it to win.