Republican presidential primary voters like the tried-and-true. This should be comforting for Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee as they gear up to 2012.
The winner of the GOP presidential nomination is almost always a candidate who has run for high office before. Reagan lost in 1968 and 1976 but won the nod in 1980. George H. W. Bush did not win in 1980 but won the nomination in 1988. Having lost in 1980 and 1988, Bob Dole came back to claim the prize in 1996. Despite a bitter experience losing to George W. Bush in 2000, John McCain won the nomination in 2008. The only recent exception to the rule was in 2000 when W. beat the field, including vanquished 1996 candidates Steve Forbes and Lamar Alexander.
Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee have both announced they have their eyes on the prize in three years, but neither man can be happy with the results of last Saturday's CPAC straw poll. Romney won with 20% of the vote. It was his third victory but worst showing. In 2007, he did slightly better with 21%, and, despite dropping out of last year's race, he took home 35%. For Huckabee, the news was even worse. The preacher came in a distant sixth behind Romney, Bobby Jindal, Ron Paul, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich.
We should note that a CPAC poll usually means nothing. After all, Phil Gramm and George Allen have both won the darn thing twice. But if the poll has any value, it is as a snapshot of the national conservative mood. In 1999, nobody would have thought the winner, the evangelical neoconservative Gary Bauer, would have survived longer in the 2000 primary fight than Dan Quayle, Elizabeth Dole, and Orrin Hatch, but he did and ushered in another evangelical neoconservative to eight years of office.
This year's CPAC seems to indicate conservatives are looking for fresh faces after being routed in 2008. This helps the spunky Palin, who has been on the national scene for a little over half a year, as well as the thirty-eight year old Jindal, who came in second in the poll despite his dreadful response to Obama's speech last week. At this point, history is all Romney and Huckabee have to be hopeful about.
This year's poll also signals that a Republican resurgence will not come from party hacks. None of the potential 2012 hopefuls seem to be uniting the conservative machine and a steady chorus of grumbles from Republican ranks is growing louder concerning RNC chairman Michael Steele.
If the Republicans are going to bounce back in the short term, it will not be on their own merits but because the Democrats botch things up. This could happen at the state level, with New Jersey one of the few blue states to watch. No wonder Rush Limbaugh hopes Obama fails; it's the only path to Republican recovery open for the moment.