In view of the success the Tea Party Express has enjoyed in the Republican candidate selection process this year, it’s worth asking how that movement might influence the selection of a Republican nominee for president in 2012. Here are some preliminary thoughts:
1. The Republican presidential field is likely to be crowded in 2012, with at least as many plausible-to-strong contenders as it contained in 2008. If nothing else, the perception of Obama’s vulnerability will likely attract most, if not all, of the widely-mentioned candidates, plus others who may not be on most people’s radar.
2. In a crowded field, a candidate can become the front-runner by capturing around one-third of the vote in early primaries. John McCain did it in 2008 with 38 percent in New Hampshire (where, if I recall correctly, Rudy Giuliani did not actively campaign and Fred Thompson barely participated), 33 percent in South Carolina, 36 percent in Florida, and 30 percent in Michigan (where he finished second).
3. There may well be states in which a candidate could make major headway towards these kinds of numbers on just the strength of a unified Tea Party movement.
4. The Tea Party movement might even be more influential in caucus states because the relative importance of sheer intensity is greatest in these states.
5. The Tea Party has been most influential in Western states (e.g., Nevada, Colorado, and Alaska). In 2008, Western states tended not to have super-early primaries/caucuses (Nevada was an exception). Thus, these states did not play a major role in the nomination process.
6. But even in many non-Western states, the Tea Party should be a significant force in 2012 – one capable of giving an attractive candidate a big running start towards 33 percent of the vote, or whatever relatively low number will constitute the bar.
7. Sarah Palin is the candidate around whom the Tea Party probably could most easily coalesce. Miitt Romney doesn’t strike me as a Tea Party kind of guy, and that’s not even taking Romney-care into account. Mike Huckabee might be attractive to the Tea Party movement in some ways, but his record as Arkansas governor should pose a problem for a small government oriented movement. Newt Gingrich is a former Washington insider. Tim Pawlenty and other successful governors may come across as too pragmatic. Palin, as far as I can tell, doesn’t answer to any of these off-putting descriptions.
8. The prospect of riding a Tea Party wave may provide Palin with an extra incentive to run for president, if she needs one.
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