Byline: Andrew Romano
Things look bleak for 2012, but Republicans have talent in the pipeline.
Mitt Romney is damaged goods. Tim Pawlenty is a snooze. Newt Gingrich is a mess. And Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, and Ron Paul are unelectable. It's no surprise that Republicans are responding to their 2012 choices with "a range of emotions running from disappointment to panic," as National Review editor Rich Lowry quipped in a recent column.
But the GOP's short-term dismay should be tempered with something like long-term relief. Why? Because the very conundrum that's currently vexing conservatives--an unsatisfying crop of 2012 contenders--is setting them up to reap a far more important reward four years from now: a standard-bearer they can actually be proud of, running in a race that he or she stands a better chance of winning.
Consider the party's 2016 farm team. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is young, conservative, and a minority. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal boasts some of the same qualities, with the added bonus of actual policy chops. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is already a conservative folk hero; by 2015 he might have some real accomplishments under his belt. Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, meanwhile, is flirting with a 2012 run, but as a moderate, his plan may have less to do with winning over this year's hyperpartisan base than with laying the groundwork for 2016. And then there's Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, along with other lesser-known names.
Not only are these rising Republican politicians some of the most intriguing in recent memory, they're also shaping up to be very well suited to the likely demands of the 2016 presidential campaign. After eight years of young, cosmopolitan Obama, the GOP will probably want to field a candidate who strikes voters as fresh and new--especially because people tend to get elected president (or vice president) only within 14 years of first winning major elective office, as journalist Jonathan Rauch has noted. By 2016 only Ryan will have passed his sell-by date, and he's unlikely to seem stale, given his relative youth. The rest of the class of 2016 either has a short resume or minority roots. …