The Next Republican President

In the first in a series of posts on the 2012 landscape, former Bush and McCain strategist Mark McKinnon handicaps 11 Republicans—and explains why Obama might not be a lock for two terms.

Political crackheads, fire up your pipes.

Let the 2012 political games begin. Hell, they’ve already begun. Only 1,251 days to go until the first primary. Observe as some of the usual and not so usual suspects start firing up their engines.

I’m surprised by how many people I talk to in the media and politics, including many Republicans, already presume Obama will be a two-term president.

If you had any doubt, just look at the political news this week: Governor Tim Pawlenty announces he is not going to seek re-election, Mitt Romney gives a foreign-policy speech at the Heritage Foundation and appears on the Today show, Senator John Ensign lectures in Iowa on ways to retool the Republican Party, and Newt Gingrich reels in his intemperate accusation that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is a racist.

And we have one of the first credible horse-race polls from CNN, which shows that of those candidates polled, we have a dead heat among Mike Huckabee (22 percent), Sarah Palin (21 percent), and Romney (21 percent). These three alone will probably raise the Iowa GDP by a point or two over the next few years.

Given the kind of resources and organization required to run a presidential campaign these days, it’s rarely too early to run. It’s often too late.

Knock, knock, Fred Thompson.

I’m surprised by how many people I talk to in the media and politics, including many Republicans, already presume Obama will be a two-term president. That’s a perfectly reasonable assumption if you also assume nothing much will happen of any great significance or importance in the next few years. And that there will be no external surprises or crises.

The fun thing about politics is how often conventional wisdom gets thrown out the window (African-American president, never!) and how often we are surprised at the turn of events.

Mid-term in the presidency of George H.W. Bush, he looked unbeatable. Favorability ratings after the liberation of Kuwait in the high 80s. Everyone thought he would be a two-term president, including heavyweight potential opponents like Lloyd Bentsen and Dick Gephardt, who never suited up. But, as Woody Allen said, 90 percent of the game is just showing up, and Bill Clinton did.

Think about all the people who told Barack Obama to wait.

Whatever the political dynamics may be two years from now, it is my view that any Republican who wants to run for president in 2012 or 2016 would be wise to start cranking up the machine now.

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First we’ll assume that most of the candidates who ran in 2008 will run again. It’s like sex—once you do it, it’s pretty hard to stop.

Handicapper Corner’s Top 10, Plus One Longshot:

1. Mitt Romney. Republicans like orderly succession, and he’s got the $$.

2. Tim Pawlenty. Reformer, populist elected in a blue state.

3. John Thune. Central casting and liked by all factions.

4. Mike Huckabee. A national show and evangelical base.

5. Sarah Palin. The juice and interest level of an American Idol finalist.

6. Mark Sanford. Pork-busting fiscal conservative from key state (South Carolina).

7. Bobby Jindal. He seems to be saying, “Wait,” and may be one of the few who can.

8. Newt Gingrich. No one understands better how to start a revolution.

9. Jon Huntsman. Brilliant move by Obama keeping his friends close and his enemies in China. But if he solves an early crisis and comes home, look out.

10. John Ensign. A U.S senator spending time in Iowa. ’Nuff said.

Longshot: Jeb Bush. Never count out a Bush out of GOP politics (George P.’s nickname is “47”).

Xtra Insight: Read Benjamin Sarlin on the leveling of the 2012 field.

As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, causes, and individuals, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono. McKinnon is co-chair of Arts & Labs, a collaboration between technology and creative communities that have embraced today’s rich Internet environment to deliver innovative and creative digital products to consumers.