Who will be the GOP's nominee in 2012? Place your bets now.

Who will be the GOP's nominee in 2012? Place your bets now.

Summary: Because there's almost nothing more fun than speculating about presidential candidates, we present to you the earliest comprehensive list of Republican possibles for 2012.

TOPICS: Government

This week in ZDNet Government, we begin our in-depth political coverage of the upcoming 2010 mid-term elections. This article continues the election coverage, which began on Monday with Attacking the Tea Party head-on would be a strategic mistake for both major parties.

The 2012 presidential elections are more than two years away. Regardless of what pundits may say, the Democratic nominee is almost guaranteed to be President Obama.

On the other hand, after a disastrous election cycle in 2008, the GOP has no single probable nominee, leaving the field wide open to possibility.

Because there's almost nothing more fun than speculating about presidential candidates, we present to you the earliest comprehensive list of Republican possibles for 2012. This list contains 29 names you're probably going to hear more about over the next 24 months.

One of them is likely to be the GOP nominee. Who knows? It's also possible that one of the following will be a Tea Party nominee (or, heck, they could be the same thing).

No matter what happens, for those of us who view presidential elections the way sports fans view the World Series, the next two years are going to be fodder for glorious pontification and prognostication.

Next: The obvious choices  »

«  Previous: Place your bets

The obvious choices

Heading into a presidential primary, the initial front-runners are usually those who were successful in the previous election or who are strong figures in the party. Given that loose cannon Sarah Palin is the heir apparent, 2012 promises to be completely unpredictable and incredibly fun entertainment.

Sarah Palin

The former governor and 2008 Vice Presidential candidate would be the obvious top choice for the 2012 nomination, except for one factor: she's Sarah Palin. That makes her completely unpredictable. Palin's got media chops and star power that puts her in a class all her own. Her "mamma grizzlies" theme is resonating deeply with women and mothers all across the country, and despite (or perhaps because of) her detractors, she has a wildly loyal support base.

But does she have the discipline to run a national campaign and, after unexpectedly resigning as governor of Alaska, does she even intend to run? She is the single biggest wild card in probably the last 30 years of national politics and that's part of what makes her story so fascinating.

Mike Huckabee

Speaking of improbable front runners, there's former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. Huckabee had no campaign organization and even less cash, yet finished the 2008 campaign with the second largest number of delegates, even ahead of the far more economically strong Mitt Romney.

Huckabee combines an every-man likability with a strong media reach due to his Fox television show. An ordained minister by profession, he surprised many pundits with his fairly poor showing among evangelicals in 2008. But, with an endorsement from Chuck Norris and a proven track record of creating astonishing success out of absolutely nothing, Huckabee's not to be dismissed out of hand.

Mitt Romney

The wealthy former Massachusetts governor exudes confidence and capability, but he found himself damaged in the 2008 campaign because he also seemed to be a bit more slick than most voters were comfortable with. Interestingly, his Mormon background didn't appear to cost him too many votes and he seemed to get along fine with those of other faiths.

Romney's real problem is he's just a bit too full of himself -- and that comes across in everything he says and does, to his detriment.

Ron Paul

Although Ron Paul didn't win any states in 2008's primary, he did wind up with 35 delegates, more than anyone else in the field other than McCain, Huckabee, and Romney. At 74, he's older than John McCain. His strident debate responses and obvious annoyance with the other candidates, along with with strong support of the Constitution and small government endeared him to much of populace while also sometimes making him appear a little nuts.

Wildly popular among some Tea Partiers, the 2010 conservative CPAC poll put him far ahead of all the other possible candidates polled.

While Paul often looks more like a mad scientist than a president, and his statements and political positions are often at odds with Republican doctrine, Paul's strong support of the Constitution and civil liberties along with his anti-interventionist (and therefore, anti-war) stance has made him a surprisingly popular figure, even across party lines.

Newt Gingrich

Professor Gingrich came to prominence in 1994 when he helped author the Republican Contract for America plan, which resulted in the GOP taking back the House for the first time in 40 years and making Gingrich the first Republican Speaker of the House in four decades.

Shortly after his historic victory, Newt allowed budgets to expire, effectively shutting down portions of the American government. Instead of seeming like a strong leader, Newt lost face when he implied part of the reason for the shutdown was that he was angry when President Clinton didn't invite him to a chat on Air Force One. His popularity with the House GOP collapsed after losing House seats in the 1998 midterms. He was also found to be cheating on his wife with a woman 23 years his junior while at the same time criticizing Bill Clinton's Monica Lewinsky tryst.

Although occasionally seen on television since the late 1990s, Newt's effectively been in suspended animation for the last decade. Having apparently been thawed out, he's seeing a resurgence in popularity at Tea Party events. Clearly one of the most intelligent and deeply knowledgeable of the GOP politicians, he often seems pompous and relatively unlikeable.

Gingrich is unlikely to win the nomination unless the other front-runners completely crash and burn. He is, however, a possible VP pick for Palin in that his intelligence and experience form a strong balance to her mix of inexperience and populist popularity.

Next: The rising stars  »

«  Previous: The obvious choices

The rising stars

Presidential elections aren't always won by the obvious choices or those with the most experience. Sometimes, as in the case with Barack Obama, the winners are those who are highly visible rising stars.

Bob McDonnell

Just days after assuming the office of Virginia governor, Bob McDonnell delivered the Republican response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address. The staging, in the Chamber of the Virginia House of Delegates, was unusual and may have violated one of the House's own rules.

Although McDonnell has little track record outside of a strong win for the governorship, he's got that presidential look and clear party support.

Scott Brown

A former male centerfold, the presidential-looking Scott Brown managed to score an upset victory for Ted Kennedy's senate seat in Massachusetts.

While it would have been a much more impressive victory if Ted weren't dead, Brown has operated with about as much of a middle-of-the-road strategy as it's possible to have in the Republican Party without being banished to the cheap seats.

Although he has almost no experience, he's quite appealing and as America has shown before (possibly to our detriment), we're often willing to elect appealing-but-inexperienced over more qualified candidates.

Chris Christie

The first Republican governor in New Jersey in 12 years, Christie won handily over John Corzine, who's campaign included digs against Christie's weight.

Although he claims he'd never run, the governor has distinguished himself with a "get the job done" attitude towards dealing with the state's fiscal problems and like most of us from New Jersey, could certainly hold his own in a fight.

Next: The used-to-be mentioned  »

«  Previous: The rising stars

The used-to-be mentioned

Four years is a very long time in politics and those who were the rising stars at the end of one election cycle are often the also-rans in the next.

Bobby Jindal

Bobby Jindal was a rising star until he was given the opportunity of a lifetime: giving the Republican response to President Obama's address to Congress. Unfortunately, Jindal came off as having all the on-screen presence of a wet blanket. The youngest governor in the U.S. and the first Indian-American governor in U.S. history, Jindal is quite popular nationally.

Unfortunately, Jindal can't seem to "bring it" with the star power, and so he stands almost no chance of competing with media naturals like Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee on the national scene.

Tim Pawlenty

A conservative governor in Minnesota, a relatively liberal state, Pawlenty has managed to tread a fine line and appeal to both conservatives and leaning independents. Pawlenty was widely considered to be on the short list for McCain's VP (had the nominee paid any attention to the short list).

Retiring from office at the end of this year, Pawlenty seems to have lost much of that new-star smell. If he runs, he'll have to make his own momentum.

Next: The party power-players  »

«  Previous: The used-to-be mentioned

The party power-players

Popularity isn't the only way to win the nomination. Sometimes raw political power can help catapult a politician into the nomination.

John Boehner

Incessantly mocked on late-night TV for his unnatural-seeming orange-looking skin tone, the Ohio congressman hasn't indicated presidential aspirations, but has repeatedly gone toe-to-toe with Democratic House juggernaut Nancy Pelosi. He hasn't been able to regularly win against Pelosi, but he's definitely made her life miserable along the way.

Eric Cantor

This Virginia representative is two years younger than Barack Obama and has become a major Republican power-player in the House, acting as an enforcer and consigliere to Boehner.

The only Jewish Republican in the House, Cantor might make ideal VP-bait if the party nominates someone who wouldn't otherwise carry Florida and the northeast.

Haley Barbour

Courtesy of term limits, the popular Mississippi governor will be out of a job in 2011, freeing him up to play on the national scene. A highly-successful former chairman of the Republican Party and member of the Republican Governors Association, Barbour isn't a front-runner, but he could be a contender.

Next: The wild long-shots  »

«  Previous: The party power-players

The wild long-shots

American voters are often unpredictable and political pundits are often wrong. That potent combination means that it's possible for someone like an obscure Arkansas governor to come from nowhere and win the nomination. In honor of the fact that just about anyone can run for office, we present to you 2012's long shots.

Michael Steele

You'll notice that Michael Steele isn't listed in party power-players. That's because the GOP head has become more of an embarrassment than a power-broker, what with paid junkets to lesbian domination bars and whatnot.

Even so, Politico's Roger Simon thinks Steele has a chance because we don't always elect the serious candidate. What Simon says might be valid. No one is less serious than Michael Steele.

Michele Bachmann

Nobody in their right mind would nominate the almost insanely conservative Michele Bachmann for President. But Bachmann has shown some smarts by appealing to the extremes of the electorate and starting a Tea Party caucus in Congress.

She's a long-shot VP candidate, if the front-runner needs to tap the lunatic fringe for more votes.

Jeb Bush

The younger brother of the former President, John Ellis Bush might have been a serious contender if it weren't for the brand damage Dubya did to the Bush name. By all indications, Jeb was a good governor for Florida, but his careers in banking and real estate won't exactly endear him to an increasingly angry electorate.

Still, under the right circumstances, he has a chance and would probably make a credible candidate in his own right, although he claims he doesn't intend to run.

Rush Limbaugh

Some claim that Rush Limbaugh has become the voice of the Republican Party. With the highest-rated talk radio show in the U.S., Limbaugh's reach is something traditional candidates can only dream about. If he decided to run, it's clear he'd be able to draw on an army of "ditto-heads," but his very Rushness is unlikely to be able to move him into a mainstream campaign.

No, we didn't mention Glenn Beck. If you think Limbaugh is an unlikely candidate, then you'll agree Beck's even more unlikely. Stephen Colbert has a better chance than Beck. Heck, Claudette Colbert has a better chance than Beck and she's been dead since 1996.

Dick Cheney

Some say that when Darth Vader has nightmares, he dreams of Dick Cheney. Some say that every time a little child screams, it gives Dick Cheney the power to take another breath. All we know is he's called Mr. Cranky for a reason.

There's almost no chance that the physically frail Mr. Cheney will run for president, but you can be sure his trademark disapproving scowl will be seen all over TV during the campaign season.

Liz Cheney

Liz Cheney, the this-one's-not-gay daughter of the former Vice President, has somehow managed to make Michele Bachmann look moderate. In 2007, the distaff Cheney was one of the co-chairs for Fred Thompson's astonishingly short-lived and late-to-the-party presidential campaign.

More recently, she's become an increasingly visible spokesperson for conservatives and a proponent of "enhanced interrogation techniques". It makes one wonder how she'd approach the back-and-forth questioning in a presidential debate.

Jan Brewer

The current governor of Arizona wasn't elected, but instead took office when Janet Napolitano left office to become President Obama's head of Homeland Security. Brewer is on our list for one reason and one reason only: Arizona's controversial immigration law, which put her on the map.

On the ballet in her own right in November, Brewer's chance for higher office rests entirely on the question of how nasty the immigration issue becomes across America.

If a front-runner needs an anti-immigration poster child for a running mate, Brewer might be a Hail Mary choice, but that's only if she can stop embarrassing herself on camera.

Next: The might-be-rising-stars by 2012  »

«  Previous: The wild long-shots

The might-be-rising-stars by 2012

If you take one thing away from this article, it's that elections are unpredictable. This early in the game, it's tough to tell who will capture the public's imagination in 25 months. That said, some newly-on-the-scene politicians, if they win elected office, have the potential to go national.

Carly Fiorina

Much too early in her political career for this fired HP chief executive to win the 2012 nomination. She was mentioned often as a possible veep in 2008 and won the GOP California senate primary with the help of an endorsement from Sarah Palin.

Consider her on the short list of VP picks whether Palin goes all the way or not.

Meg Whitman

Worth billions, this former eBay chief is one of California's wealthiest woman -- and successful business builders. Unlike Fiorina, who was hired, then shortly later canned by her board, Whitman grew eBay revenues more than a thousand times over.

She's been less visible on the national scene, but definitely comes equipped with a solid business resume.

Rand Paul

Rand Paul is the ophthalmologist son of Ron Paul. A darling of the Tea Party set, Rand Paul recently won the Republican primary in Kentucky.

He trades on his father's name (for good and bad), but has a tremendous level of grass roots support, having broken fund-raising records repeatedly.

Next: The fun-to-mock  »

«  Previous: The might-be-rising-stars by 2012

The fun-to-mock

One of the greatest joys for those of us who comment rather than do is the opportunity to mock. Here, then, are the most mock-worthy for 2012.

Joe Lieberman

No one is more fun to mock than party turncoat Joe Lieberman. Now an independent, he's likely to take any safe opportunity offered to him. Odds of winning: none.

Mark Sanford

Before he was caught hiking the Appalachian Trail, this philandering phool was considered a rising star in the GOP. Somehow, he's still Governor of South Carolina, but he'll never be seen on a presidential campaign.

John McCain

John McCain's been in office so long, he was preceded by Barry Goldwater. Seriously. For real.

Resoundingly trounced in 2008, he's widely considered responsible for creating the Sarah Palin phenomenon. At 74, he just won the primary battle for yet another Senate term.

It's unlikely he'll for run for President again, but McCain's gotten increasingly conservative and increasingly critical of President Obama.

Rudy Guliani

Mr. 9-11 shocked everyone in 2008 by going from GOP front-runner to failure almost overnight. Apparently Rudy thought running for office involved sitting home and waiting for everyone to love him.

Since that strategy required no campaign infrastructure, no cash, and no effort, there's no reason to think he won't sit home in 2012 and once again wait for everyone to love him.

Next: The wish-they-could run  »

«  Previous: The fun-to-mock

The wish-they-could run

Finally, not every dream candidate can run. Some aren't qualified, some are barred by law, and some are just too young. But, hey, we can dream, can't we?

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Despite the Governator's reputation as an action hero, Schwarzenegger hasn't been able to keep California's fiscal situation under control. Since he was born outside the U.S., Schwarzenegger's not eligible to run for President, but wouldn't it be fun if he could?

Meghan McCain

John McCain's daughter, Meghan McCain is infinitely appealing, outspoken, and already politically savvy. Look for her on the ticket against Chelsea in 2024.

* * *

Did I leave anyone out? What about Dems? Do think anyone stands a chance of challenging President Obama? Let me know in the comments below.

Topic: Government


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • i pray (pun intended)

    ...that it will be luddite soccer mom sarah palin. that would be fun. the interviews, the questions on foreign policies, the discussions with obama. will go into tv history, i guess.
    banned from zdnet
    • They can name a pig ...

      and still send Obummer packing come 2012.
    • RE: Who will be the GOP's nominee in 2012? Place your bets now.

      @banned from zdnet It would be terrible for the country if true, because she would still beat the President.
  • RE: Who will be the GOP's nominee in 2012? Place your bets now.

    I would love to see a Paul Ryan ticket. He is bucking a lot of the Republican establishment and actually has definable answers to a lot of the fiscal issues facing the country.
    • Paul Ryan

      Do the search:
      [site:freedomworks.org Paul Ryan freedomworks]

      Freedomworks is a big backer of Ryans it seems. They also created fake grass roots movements in 2005 for Bush that let Wall Street plunder the social security budget and are behind the Tea Party projects.

      Thus I have my doubts about him, what policy of his do you like so much?
      • RE: Who will be the GOP's nominee in 2012? Place your bets now.

        @guihombre I don't have a problem with the Tea Party, so that line of (lack of) thinking won't help. He isn't so far right to say he is in the tank for ideology. He worked with Russ Feingold to make the Legislative Line-item Veto Act, which neither party was ready to jump on. He is an actual economist, not a lawyer or lifetime politician. His Roadmap for America's Future was a real attempt to address entitlement spending, which is something Republicans and Democrats both are generally scared to do. Just look at his voting record.

  • Stalking Horse

    Somebody like David Petraeus for 2012 with an expectation of failure, the aim would not be to win, but to cripple the US leadership making the US ungovernable.

    That would pave the wave for Freedom works to put in a otherwise unelectable lying toe-rage candiate a real Bush mk2 idiot, Glenn Beck being the most likely candidate at 2016.

    Freedomworks = the people behind the 'Tea Party' movement & Fox's take over of the Republicans.


    "In 2005, when President George W. Bush was trying to get the public to go along with his plans for handing Social Security over to Wall Street bankers, the New York Times revealed that a ?regular single mom? paraded by Bush?s White House in its PR campaign was in fact FreedomWorks? Iowa state director."

    You'll notice that what rescued the Tea Party movement, when it failed to attract support was Fox, Fox TV presented it as popular, faking shots of marches, they presented it as pro-small government (they are the opposite).

    So that's how I expect that to play out. A 2012 stalking horse backed by Fox reporters, but not directly working for Fox, making way for a Republican takeover by Fox and a Fox candidate.
    • Tell me, guihombre

      @guihombre, you are completely terrified of the Tea Party, are you not? Tell me, when you wake up screaming in the night, is it visions of Glenn Beck that dance in your head?
  • I hope its Chris Christie......

    He is a straight shooter and doesn't get into the political hoopla that is our politics of the day. Actually he is direct and will confront people, but he does so when it is needed to be done. He states the facts clearly and gives the numbers and facts to back up his opinion on matters of the day.

    I think Americans are tired of the schoolyard type politics that we see 90% of the time from our politicians and its time people start electing politicians that are direct and that the people know where they stand on an issue.

    You can also be sure he will take on the debt crisis head on and will make it a top priority. That should be everyone's priority because when the debt defaults on us, then what do we have? A very messed up country and we should all want to avoid that crisis.
    • He will take on the debt crisis? How?

      @OhTheHumanity ... the problem is that once you take entitlements "off the table" there isn't enough money left to solve the "debt crisis" without raising taxes substantially.

      Social Security was a sound program in 1933 when there were 40 workers for every recipient and few recipeints lived two years past retirement. Today there are four workers for every recipient and recipeints often live 20 years past retirement. In the last year of their lives, these recipients tally up half of their life-time healthcare expenses - at government expense!

      The math just won't work without turning the U.S.A. into a welfare state, where the working population is fully supporting retirees. This problem will continue at least until all the baby-boomers are dead (around 2044).

      The 'dirty little secret' is that the Clinton budget surplus would have vanished by the time the baby-boomers started retiring anyway. That happens beginning in 2011.) BTW, those surpluses did not extinguish the National Debt. They jsust kept it from getting worse!
      M Wagner
  • I bet it'll be the ...

    Swedish Chef from the Muppet show. He seems like a charming fellow but I don't trust him after trying to figure out what it is he keeps telling us.
  • Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana

    Actually you left out a very probable candidate: Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana. He has some Washington experience but has had two very successful terms as the Republican Governor of Indiana. While most of the states in the union are suffering budget debacles and red ink, Gov. Daniels has led Indiana through this recession with money in the bank. He has lowered taxes while doing it. His fiscal policies should be a shining example of how we should be running the country and gives hope that without collapsing into the socialist quagmire of Obamaland in a sea of red ink.
    Gov. Daniels is soft spoke, comes across well, if not charismatic, on TV. He rides a Harley whenever he can. He's not lived in the Governor's Mansion but rather commutes from his home in Carmel, a suburb of Indianapolis, Indiana's state capital. He has an exemplary record of conservative governing without being the shrill voice of the far Right. He's also currently being courted by the 'powers that be' on the GOP side of the aisle. In a typically Mitch way of doing things instead of jetting about the country meeting these movers and shakers he invites them to his house for dinner in groups of a dozen or more. Saves air fair for himself and the state and he feels if he's going to make a move in that direction it's better to begin it efficaciously.
    As a campaigner he's brilliant in spite of being quiet and a tad shy. His first campaign for governor had him driving about the state in an RV meeting people from all walks of life in nearly every small town and village in the state. He listened to the people as much as gave stump speeches. He still listens more than he talks. He would be an ideal speaker at any Tea Party gathering as, unlike any number of Dem politicians, doesn't view a town hall as 'his' meeting to orate and chastise but rather just what it is, a venue for those elected to listen to the views of those who elected him.
    Bottom line, the man is a good leader.
  • This should be Titled ...

    "Cue liberal paranoia" based on the few posts here. Gotta love it when people's opinions of what happened during the Bush admin are based on personal prejudice instead of facts - and how that will influence the next election.

    Break out the popcorn and let the conspiracy theories flow!
    • I Won't Disagree With You


      But, please, the right wing owns the paranoid conspiracy nutjob label these days. Haven't you heard that Obama is a Muslim? As for the health care bill, 33% believe government beaurocrats will make medical decisions; 65% believe it will increase the deficit!

      Healthy debate is needed in our political system. But when so many people believe things that are flat out false, I begin to worry. Especially since these are the people most charged up and ready to vote this fall.
      • I can't speak to the beraurocrats

        But it kinda will taise deficits. Anyone who tells you that we can put more money into a system and save money is telling a bad joke.
        Michael Alan Goff
  • Tim Pawlenty is not a conservative

    When I moved to Minnesota I quickly realized there are very few real conservatives here. Most Minnesota Republicans, including Pawlenty, would be Democrats in almost any other state. Mr. Pawlenty is not a conservative - he is just a little less liberal than a MN democrat. I'll close with a joke:

    Did you hear the one about Minnesota?

    • Seems to be a conservative to me...

      @cornpie... Record Deficites meanwhile handing out tax cuts to the wealthy.

      And you call that a joke... Pathetic.
      • Well, I have to agree

        @JM1981 But the only alternative to depression is often to make a joke about it. So here is another one:

        Did you hear the one about Minnesota?

        Amy Klobachar!!BWAHHAHAHAHAHAH

        Actually that one isn't any more funny, but I choose laughter over depression (or perhaps I'm just n a manic phase).
  • 2012 will play out like 2008, only in reverse.

    In 2008, whomever the Republicans nominated didn't stand a chance, as Bush had soured the waters to the point where even a completely unqualified empty suit like Obama could win for the Dems. In 2012, the Republicans could nominate Joe the Plumber and win in a landslide, as now it is Obama souring the water for the Dems. The only chance that the Dems might have, and it is a long shot, would be if Obama announces that he will not seek another term and allow Hillary to step forward.

    On the Republican side, the early favorite seems to be Mike Huckabee, but I would not rule out Romney or Palin. Personally, I hope that Palin gets the nomination, as anyone who makes liberals foam at the mouth like she does is OK in my book!
    • I think it'll be Romney, with

      maybe one of the other as the VP, but when it comes to politics, everything's a guess.
      John Zern