GOP 2012: Why So Few Takers?

Sarah Palin and Chris Christie. Credit: Darren McCollester/Getty Images and Joe Corrigan/Getty Images

The GOP wants to go to the big dance, but it's having a hell of a time finding a date. Indeed, the top story of the 2012 campaign to date is not who's leading in the polls. Rather, it's the A-Listers who were too busy, er, washing their hair.

Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin joined New Jersey governor Chris Christie this week as the latest of the coulda-been contenders to spurn the GOP's advances.

But let's not forget the other party leaders who populate the 2012 sidelines.

Governors (current and former): Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, and Jeb Bush.

Senators: Consider too that not a single sitting Republican Senator has tossed his or her hat in the ring. Democrats last go 'round had four.

Representatives: Nary a one of the House's restlessly self-promoting "young guns" — I'm looking at you Mssrs. Ryan, Cantor and Pence — thought enough of the nomination process to even use it as a brand-building exercise.

Yesterday we learned that even the party's top prospective VP candidate, freshman Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, is channelling his inner William Tecumseh Sherman, vowing that he will not join the 2012 GOP ticket: "I am not going to be the Vice Presidential nominee," he insisted. "I don't crave it."

What's not to crave? The country's in crisis. The GOP has a chance to fundamentally reshape the country. Yet the party's best and brightest can't kindle the fire in the belly to run for office?

President Obama may be a formidable fundraiser and campaigner; but politically, he's a sitting duck. His approval ratings are at 40 percent — and faltering. Unemployment is abysmal. The economy has stalled out. There's unrest on the streets. If America (or Europe) plunges into economic free fall, any candidate not named Barack could find themselves in the White House almost by default — and likely backed by strong Republican majorities in the House and Senate.

Yet today's Republican field is the thinnest in years, with just two serious candidates of national stature. The kinda-frontrunner, Mitt Romney, is a stark mismatch with his party on regional and religious grounds; is the forefather of hated Obamacare; and is rightfully distrusted on social issues for being multiple-choice Mitt.

Texas Governor Rick Perry's home state and megachurch attendance make him a more natural fit for the GOP base, but thanks to his his brain-dead debate performances and his ill-judged assault on Social Security, he's now tied or trailing Herman "Deep Dish" Cain, whose 9-9-9 tax plan seems transparently inspired by the promotional price of a large, Godfather's pizza (and would bankrupt the country, while requiring most Americans to pay more in taxes, besides).

The party's fallbacks? A thrice-married bloviator (Newt Gingrich), an isolationaist gold bug (Ron Paul), a paranoid back-bencher (Michele Bachmann), a raging homophobe (Rick Santorum), and Romney's Mini-Me (John Huntsman).

They say it's better to be lucky than good. And given the quality of the opposition, president Obama may just luck into a second term.