Republican Candidates for President 2012: Haley Barbour's Exit Leaves Sad Field

Now that Haley Barbour, one of the savviest politicos around, has dropped out of the presidential race, we may as just make Tim Pawlenty the Republicans' Bob Dole for 2012 and be done with it—at least he won't embarrass the party when he loses, says Matt Latimer.

Haley Barbour addressed the Republican National Congressional Committee's election results watch party on November 2, 2010, in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

It is a tough time to be a Republican political junkie. This year’s presidential election is deteriorating so badly that it may be time to write the whole thing off. It’s never too early to start thinking about Marco Rubio vs. Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Pity the sad sacks still glued to the current campaign, which, according to polls, does not include the majority of the American electorate. Our likely voters care more about Kate Middleton’s second cousins than they do about the folks who would lead them for the next four years.

For those willing to bother themselves with such trifles as the next leader of the free world, there’s a simple way to save an enormous amount of time and money: Send Gov. Tim Pawlenty the Robert J. Dole “Thanks for being the GOP nominee and not embarrassing us too badly” Award and then get on with it. It’s his race to lose. And, don’t worry, he probably will. But not until November 2012.

This week another GOP heavyweight who might have made the contest interesting, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, moved one more body out of TimPaw’s path to the nomination—his own. Barbour, the former Republican Party chairman, is one of the savviest politicos around. He knows this year’s contest is too boring to muster much enthusiasm, and pretty much said just that when he quit.

Meanwhile another colorful contender, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, continues an implosion so rapid that the ensuing black hole may yet swallow up an entire American city. The man with the biggest Rolodex in Washington, and who swears he is thinking seriously about a presidential run, could only scrape together an embarrassing $53,000. That’s not even enough for a single royal wedding planner. Will someone, please, politely tell the former speaker that he really doesn’t want to do this?

No faction of the party has much against Pawlenty, which is why he will ultimately triumph. But few really want a president whose main selling point is: You Despise Me the Least.

If there is any oxygen to be found in this race, it still is being sucked up by The Donald, who now concedes that President Obama is a native-born citizen. The issue undermined whatever seriousness Mr. Trump hoped to offer as a candidate. Perhaps it is not too late. Come to think of it, I still don’t know why everyone thinksTrump is so unqualified to be president. Few in the press seem to question the qualifications of the career politicians who’ve never done a single thing in the real world except run for office and spend money they didn’t earn. Trump may indeed be the world’s greatest salesman—he’s even managed to make Star Jones interesting each week—and in the end, isn’t that a president’s most important skill? Although he is gaining some traction, even winning some praise from Fox News’ Charles Krauthammer and the Reverend Franklin Graham, the mogul still can’t shake the sense that his bid is really the result of a late-night wager he concocted at one of his golf clubs over drinks with Warren Buffett and Ted Turner. “Ten million says I can go on TV, say any random thing that pops into my head, and see if people still take me seriously!” (Gentlemen, it’s time to pay up.)

With the well-connected Haley Barbour out, the new candidate causing Republican fat cats’ knees to knock is Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. He’s another of those dream candidates whom every Republican loves but the voters. This winter Daniels tried to make a point about political compromise, saying he would like to “mute” issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage but ended up sounding like he was telling abortion opponents to surrender their convictions and shut up. That kind of thing doesn’t go over too well, especially in Iowa. Then there are the 2008 also-rans, Mitt Rombot and Mike Huckabee, the two most handicapped frontrunners for any contest since Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. The social conservatives don’t trust the once proudly moderate Romney. The fiscal conservatives don’t trust the once big-spending Huckabee. And the rest are voting for Ron Paul. There are of course other candidates I am forgetting—that probably says enough about them right there.

Where does that leave the Republican field? You guessed it. Gov. Pawlenty seems like a fine sort, the kind of fellow who scrubs his hands before every meal, always remembers to return borrowed books on time, and runs a very efficient Scrabble night whenever it’s his turn to host. No faction of the party has much against him, which is why he will ultimately triumph. But few really want a president whose main selling point is: You Despise Me the Least.

It is a sad state of affairs, but not an uncommon one. It was exactly two decades ago, after all, that the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination was an accused serial philanderer who supposedly dodged the draft while famously failing to inhale. He was running against another crop of uninspiring candidates and supposedly had no hope of victory, either. So 2012 may too hold its own surprises. But if it doesn’t, political junkies, fear not. Mrs. Clinton’s next sojourn to New Hampshire is a mere four years way.

Matt Latimer is the author of the New York Times bestseller, SPEECH-LESS: Tales of a White House Survivor. He was deputy director of speechwriting for George W. Bush and chief speechwriter for Donald Rumsfeld.