Right now, there look to be four Republican Presidential candidates for 2012: Palin, Huckabee, Romney, and Pawlenty.
Romney, despite the doubts about whether he’s actually a flesh-and-blood human as opposed to an improbably pretty android, is the only one of the four who can plausibly be imagined either winning a Presidential contest or not looking silly in the Oval Office. But I don’t see how a Mormon gazillionaire leveaged-buyout operator whose Massachusetts healthcare plan looks a lot like Obamacare can win a Republican primary.
And with three other players in the field, I don’t see how Sarah Palin gets stopped; she’ll get a solid 35% of the vote, which should be ample to bring her in first in most states under a largely winner-take-all system. But she would split the party and get a Goldwater/McGovern/Mondale share of the votes in November, paving the way for a hugely successful second term for Obama.
Some of the social-con leaders will support Huckabee, but that won’t much dent Palin’s support. So the only way to prevent a Palin nomination would be for the money-cons to desert Romney, their first love, and Pawlenty, who is perfectly acceptable to them, and embrace the populist/protecionist Huckabee, whom they deeply distrust. He’s no less extreme than Palin, and he’s hardly prepared by education or experience to be President, but he’s not merely a clown; he has raw intelligence, humor, self-awareness, occasional eloquence, and either sincerity or the capacity to fake it.
Would Huckbee sell out his populism for money-con backing? I bet he would. Could the money-cons put him over the top? I think they might; without them, Pawlenty and Romney will fade quickly, though of course Romney can self-finance. If it came down to more or less a head-to-head with Palin, Huckabee would be very well positioned. I doubt he could take Obama, but he’d hold the party together.
What I don’t know is whether the Forbes/Norquist crowd will game this out the way I have, or whether they’d be prepared to forgive Huckabee his economic heresies in order to protect their side from disaster. My bet would be against it. Once again, Barack Obama’s incredible luck in finding self-destructing opponents may come through for him, and for us.