The 2012 Rogue's Gallery.

It's always hard to predict what's going to happen in a presidential race that's a year or two away -- back in 1991, when George H.W. Bush was riding high, somebody actually bet me $100 that no Democrat would beat him in the next year's election. But if you're a Republican today, there are two ways to look at 2012. One is that there's just no way the economy is going to be as bad two years from now as it is today, the president's approval ratings are pretty much exactly following the arc Ronald Reagan's followed in his first term, Barack Obama is one hell of a campaigner, he'll have lots and lots of money, and maybe it would be best to wait until 2016. The other way to look at it is, hey, his approval ratings are low, Americans hate his socialist agenda, and history demands I run now.

I happen to think that whoever's in category 1 has the right idea. But it looks like the field is beginning to form. And if I were Obama, I wouldn't exactly be frightened. Let's look at what we've got:

- The former half-term governor of Alaska, who is currently the most unpopular politician in America
- The former speaker of the House, a uniquely repellent personality who is almost as unpopular
- A former governor widely known as the most nakedly opportunistic and phony politician anyone can remember, whose signature accomplishment is a health-care plan nearly identical to Obama's
- A Mississippi governor and former tobacco lobbyist (already running!) who reminds everyone of Foghorn Leghorn
- A Minnesota governor with all the charisma of a plate of lutefisk

One thing you can say about this bunch is that with the exception of Tim Pawlenty, they are certainly entertaining. Just imagine a debate with Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and Haley Barbour trading blows. It'll be a hoot!

-- Paul Waldman

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