Haley Barbour, Mike Huckabee, and Donald Trump have both bowed out, never having fully stepped into the race. Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann generate many headlines, but have yet to announce one way or another. What does that mean for the 2012 GOP frontrunners race? It seems to be a case of the bland leading the bland, and that is a problem for the GOP.
For now, Newt Gingrich is still in the race, although he shot himself in the foot before sticking said foot in his mouth by taking aim at Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Ohio) and his budget. Perhaps Ryan reminds Gingrich too much of himself, and he is jealous. Perhaps he does not have that fire in his belly, but it does not seem likely that too many Tea Party supporters will turn out the vote for Gingrich after that misstep. It is hard to see how Gingrich could turn this around, even with his belated apology to Ryan to become one of the 2012 GOP frontrunners.
Herman Cain generates a lot of excitement, but his name recognition is only slighty better than Fred Karger. Both of their names generally earn more looks of confusion than anything else, even though Cain was a great crowd pleaser at the first GOP debate.
Palin does not face that problem, but there is no sign from her camp that any announcement will be coming anytime soon. Her name recognition is great, and according to a recent Gallup poll, her supporters are passionate. The problem is that polls also show that the number of people who say that they would never vote for her seems to grow with every poll. Bachmann's name recognition is lower than Palin's, but she is a darling among the Tea Party set. Her problem, however, is the same as Palin's in that the number of people who say that they would never vote for her keeps growing. Also, the fact remains that Bachmann, as popular as she may be, is a three-term Representative from Minnesota, and she has never won even a statewide election. Also on the negatives for Bachmann is that no president in recent memory was an incumbent Congressperson. Bachmann has indicated that she will make an announcement by the end of this month, per The Daily Caller.
This leaves Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty as the 2012 GOP frontrunners. Neither of them have any skeletons in the closet that we know of, although recent events prove that it is still possible to keep quite large secrets out of the public eye. The problem is that neither of them have that certain X factor that successful candidates usually have.
Romney and Pawlenty are both white, middle-aged, fairly well-respected former governors (Massachusetts and Minnesota respectively), with perfectly fine and lovely families. None of this is bad. What is bad is that neither has been able to create the kind of energy that Huckabee or Trump did in their non-campaigns. The problem with that is that with the very blandness that might win the day comes the challenge of trying to turn out the vote on Election Day. If they cannot turn that around, one of them might very well wind up headlining a losing ticket come November next year. On top of that, Romney has the added onus of trying to distance himself from the Massachusetts healthcare plan upon which some say "Obamacare" is modeled.
Inertia is an incumbent's friend, not a challenger's, and it is difficult to see either Romney or Pawlenty creating the kind of charge that President Barack Obama did in 2008.