Wanted: A GOP Savior
Kurtz, Howard, Newsweek
Byline: Howard Kurtz
Excited onlookers keep stopping Newt Gingrich to pose for photos or sign autographs after his long day bashing President Obama on everything from energy to Egypt. But when asked about his real agenda at the popular Conservative Political Action Conference--floating an actual candidacy--the ex-House speaker turns cautious. "You have to decide whether it's something you feel compelled to do," he says, "and if it's absolutely your duty to do it."
As all manner of pols, poseurs, and publicity seekers flirt with the notion of seeking the Republican nomination, shadowboxing is being covered as if it were a heavyweight championship. Web-driven scrutiny has elevated a match that is clearly not ready for the main arena.
Big-name strategists are sitting on the sidelines, worried about backing a palooka. What's left is a muddy game of positioning. "They're trying to impress the process press, especially Politico, to get some clips they can show donors," says GOP strategist Mike Murphy. "It's a big house of mirrors." After a slew of aspirants, real and delusional, strutted their stuff at CPAC, it was hard to miss the elephant that wasn't in the room: no one, for now, poses a clear threat to Obama.
Among those auditioning: acid-tongued congresswoman Michele Bachmann, bombastic billionaire Donald Trump, and pizza mogul Herman Cain. Jon Huntsman? Ron Paul? Rand Paul? Sure, take a number.
The GOP has always handed the nomination to the next old guy in line (John McCain, Bob Dole, Ronald Reagan); or the vice president (Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush); or a close relative (George W.). But after the Tea Party's rise, says historian Richard Norton Smith, "A party that doesn't speak with one voice is unlikely to be able to anoint a consensus candidate. And part of it is you've got a bunch of retreads."
Former GOP chairman Ed Gillespie disagrees, saying: "Obama's not scaring anybody out of running." Adds Democratic imagemaker Mandy Grunwald: "You do look at them and think, 'That's all they got? …