With the recent "suspension" of Cain's campaign (translation: I'll still take donations, and if everyone else melts down, I may step back in), there are 4 candidates left that have not peaked and then cratered. Despite being written off months ago as a non-entity in the race, he is now considered the front runner, thanks to the "anybody but Romney" mindset of the Republican primary voters. If past history is any indication, he too will experience a spiral into the abyss within a week or two.
But for now, he shares the "top 4" status with Romney, Paul, and Huntsman. Cain is essentially out, Perry bumbled and fumbled his way out of the nomination, and Bachmann and Santorum are just too nutty even for the average Republican primary voter (even in this weak field, they seem to be out of their league). Pawlenty must be kicking himself for dropping out so soon. There are a couple others trying to get some attention (like Buddy Roemer), but are not getting invited to the debates, so they will never be contenders.
The "Gingrich Bump
" is amazing in its own right. Cain was essentially marginalized because of an alleged 13-year affair with another woman - the sexual harrassment charges were far more serious, and should
have been the bullet to his campaign. Of course, that was all icing on the "things swirling around in my head" cake. Gingrich, on the other hand, has had at least
two affairs, and is on his third wife. For the "protect marriage" crowd, that should
be a deal-breaker, but the voters can certainly be selectively forgiving.
On top of that, Gingrich has a rather well-documented past of shady doings and impulsive behavior, including shutting down government because then-President Clinton didn't let him ride in Air Force One, and being charged with 84 ethics violations
while Speaker of the House (he ended up paying $300K). Having been in Congress so long and holding the Speaker's chair, he is also clearly not "an outsider", and voters looking to "clean house" will soon realize that they don't want to sweep the dirt back in.
Ron Paul is another old-timer in the political arena. Older than the rest of the candidates, he's been part of the political machine for decades, which is interesting in that he constantly reminds us how much he hates government. He even switched from the Libertarian party (where he truly belongs) to the Republican party to further his own career, despite the clashes with party dogma that frequently occur (and visible in every debate), especially as they relate to the military and drug policy. Paul always has a noisy hard-core base that pulls for him every 4 years (this isn't his first time in the rodeo), but his wacky libertarian ideas always alienate a majority of Republican voters who - while complaining about the size of government - still like their government services (click here
to see how Paul's brand of libertarianism plays out in real life).
At least Paul was adult enough to say "no thanks" to Trump and his ego-fest debate (and did so in quite colorful fashion
). Huntsman was the first one to say "this is a joke, and I won't participate", and following Paul's defection, Romney bailed too
. So the Trump debates should be a real circus freak show of Gingrich acting like King Boo-foo, and the rest of the also-rans desperately trying to regain some relevancy, and possibly a Veep slot in the impending race.
Along with Paul and Gingrich, that leaves Mitt "why-doesn't-anybody-like-me" Romney, and Jon "I'm-the-other-Mormon" Huntsman. It might end up being a bland-off between those two. Right now, Romney is running against himself (or - more accurately - himself several years ago) by wearing the arch-conservative vestments of his opponents. He looks about as comfortable in those clothes as he would if he had to wear Rick Perry's unwashed boxer shorts. Hopefully, that Mormon magic underwear will protect him.
Which leaves Huntsman... By all measures, he is the most reasoned and seasoned pro in the bunch. He's not a nut-job, and doesn't seem to have any skeletons in his closet. In short - no controversy, so no press. Also, the extremists voters in the Republican party don't trust (and likely don't understand) his non-absolutist nuanced approaches to political positions.
Naturally, this has left the Republican primary voter in fits of desperation, like watching your favorite football team blow a field goal with less than 2 minutes left, and hoping (but deep down knowing otherwise) that some last minute miracle will occur. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was supposed to be that miracle, but he said "Thanks, but no thanks". This late in the game, it's highly unlikely that there will be an 11th hour candidate jump in. This is the field; this is who the Republicans have to choose from.
It's about to get very interesting.