Signs of Panic in the Republican Ranks

Concerned that none of the current Republican presidential candidates may be able to beat a clearly vulnerable Barack Obama, some influential Republicans are casting about for a white knight to join the GOP field. The morning after the September 22 Fox News/Google debate, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol wrote an editorial summing up his reaction with the word, "Yikes!"

Kristol went on to express hope that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would change his mind and enter the presidential race.

He is not alone. Wall Street Journal editor Paul Gigot has reported that Christie is seriously considering a race and former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, who has known Christie since the 1980s, said Christie is "very seriously" considering a run.

Jennifer Rubin, who writes the Right Turn blog for the Washington Post, sketched out an imaginary scenario in which Christie enters the race, and this week she sent up a trial balloon for Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. When Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels spoke at the American Enterprise Institute Monday on his new book "Keeping the Republic," he was asked whether he would reconsider his decision not to run--and whether he thought Christie would do so.

There is one leading Republican figure with a governing record of wide appeal to Republicans and a proven capacity to run ahead of party and win in the nation's largest target state. But his father and brother have already served as president, and at the moment no one seems to be urging Jeb Bush to run.

His answers were negative. Similarly, after a Weekly Standard article this summer said that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan might reconsider his decision not to run, Ryan scotched those rumors.

Meanwhile, many longtime national Republican fundraisers have declined to sign on with any candidate, and many are sending their money not to candidates or party committee but to third party organizations like Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS.

Polls show Republican primary voters somewhat more satisfied with the field than they were a few months ago. But they also show all of the current candidates, with the occasional exception of Mitt Romney, running worse against the president than a generic Republican candidate.

Rick Perry and Romney, the two frontrunners, suffered a blow to their prestige last Saturday when the Florida straw poll was won by Herman Cain, who delivered a rousing speech to the crowd in Orlando. Perry and Romney together won only 29% of the votes, less than the 37% won by Cain, who has never held elective office and who insiders believe has no chance to win the nomination.

Each of the frontrunners has at least one major vulnerability among Republican primary voters and caucus-goers. Perry's spirited defense of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants is widely unpopular outside Texas, and Romney's Massachusetts health care plan has an individual mandate to buy insurance, just like the health care bill Obama signed in March 2010.

The panicking Republicans' hopes were dashed earlier this year when Christie, Daniels and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan announced they would not run.

There is one leading Republican figure with a governing record of wide appeal to Republicans and a proven capacity to run ahead of party and win in the nation's largest target state. But his father and brother have already served as president, and at the moment no one seems to be urging Jeb Bush to run.

Michael Barone is a resident fellow at AEI

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  • Michael Barone, a political analyst and journalist, studies politics, American government, and campaigns and elections. The principal coauthor of the annual Almanac of American Politics (National Journal Group), he has written many books on American politics and history. Barone is also a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner.

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