The current Republican anti-Romney leader is Herman Cain. Cain has essentially no political experience and it's shown throughout his run. He's mangled his positions on abortion, foreign policy, Israel, immigration, and taxes in one way or another and while people respect him most for not being scripted, it's become apparent that, just like every politician, he's willing to "clarify" his positions to exactly what the base wants to hear. Cain's political ads have been similarly amateurish and he's still doing paid speeches and his book tour. Even Herman Cain doesn't seem to believe he's the frontrunner and, like Sarah Palin, is using his fame more for the purpose of making money than trying to become a serious candidate. Also like Sarah Palin, it's become apparent that he has no interest in studying issues and becoming fully educated as a presidential candidate should be before pursuing the White House. He may be leading in the polls now, but given the way his predecessors Perry, Bachmann, and Trump have declined, it probably won't take long for Herman Cain to be exposed as a fraud, even among the GOP base.
If Herman Cain falters though, who will pick up his slack? The two leading candidates in my mind are Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich. Perry stumbled badly out of the gate as his bad debate performances allowed his opponents to grab the narrative and highlight all of his supposed faults. Given his competition, it seems like Perry, a decade-long governor of a big state with a good jobs record (on the surface at least), should be well-suited to dominate the field as he did when he first entered the race. If he can put together some passable debate performances and Herman Cain predictably collapses, it seems like the base would be open to returning to him as long as nobody brings up HPV.
Then there's Newt Gingrich. He seems to think he's the smartest man in the room at every debate and while I find most of what he says to be ridiculous and pompous, his pseudo-intellectualism could work in a party where half the field routinely has terrible debate performances. Gingrich's problem seems to be similar to Cain's in that he's a lazy campaigner and it's unclear if he can really be the candidate that fires up the base. At this point, he remains the dark horse for the nomination though.
Of course, the tortoise can't be forgotten. Mitt Romney was the guy who ran to the right of Rudy Giuliani and John McCain in 2008 and lost. Now, even though all of his positions are essentially the same, he's running to the left of the field. He's been stuck around 20% in the polls which makes him a clear frontrunner and the only one who has been consistently solid in debates but that might not be enough. Every time the flavor of the month collapses, Romney doesn't pick up those voters. It's hard to blame them. Romney may be a smart guy but his history has made it abundantly clear that he can't be trusted to do anything but take politically expedient positions. I won't even bother to run through the list of Romney flip flops because it's nearly endless but I will mention that he still hasn't abandoned the strategy. Just in the last few days, he was caught trying to slink away from the Kasich anti-union bill in Ohio after previously supporting whole-heartedly only to go back to supporting it again when he was called out for flip-flopping. In the end, he's still the favorite to win but they're not going to make it easy for him.
But now, to the real point that I mentioned in the headline. All of these Republican candidates (not unlike their counterparts in Congress) have gone off the deep end. The public faces of the Republican Party have hitched their wagon to the Tea Party out of an irrational fear of being primaried (presumably) and it has resulted in a situation where the country is in bad shape and their approval ratings are brutally bad, way worse than a struggling President Obama. While Obama languishes near 40% approval, a rating that places him in terrible shape against a "generic republican," luckily for him, there are no generic Republicans challenging him at the moment. Just this week, polls released had Obama beating his main challengers in Ohio and even Arizona, a state that no Democrat has won since Clinton.
While the candidates seemingly can't be reasoned with, it's not because it hasn't been tried. Solid Republicans like Jeb Bush and Pat Robertson, among other big names, have pleaded with them to moderate themselves to no avail. If only there were a Republican candidate in the race that was reasonable, somewhat moderate, and the holder of an impressive resume. Oh wait, there is one. His name is Jon Huntsman. He's solidly Republican on most issues, had the #1 jobs record when he was governor of Utah, has foreign policy experience, and doesn't have a record of flip-flopping like Mitt Romney. Where is he in the polls? 1 or 2%. If all of these Republicans are searching for someone to beat Barack Obama and institute a conservative agenda, why don't any of them go out on a limb and endorse Jon Huntsman? It seems like an obvious solution to the problem yet they continue let the tail wag the dog as the Tea Party extremists go from one unqualified failure to another. If Republicans lose the 2012 election, as they are currently poised to do against all odds, the establishment and leadership can only blame themselves for not endorsing Jon Huntsman, far and away the best candidate in the field to meet their needs.