Feb 26, 2012 - Roger SimonThe most notable factor in the Republican presidential race thus far is the depth of confusion into which Republican voters have sunk.
They cannot find a candidate. Faced with a Democratic incumbent who appears shockingly weak to them, the Republicans have been unable to find a big nominee with a big voice to oppose him.
Instead, they are finding a series of small nominees with squeaky voices. Some think the Republican problem is that its voters have failed to "coalesce" around a single candidate. That is not the problem.
The problem is that there is no candidate around whom Republicans can coalesce.
The GOP is now the party of woulda, coulda, shoulda. If only this governor had run. If only that person had not dropped out early. If only there had not been so many debates to introduce the candidates to the American people long before the candidates were ready to be introduced.
Today, what ushers forth from the throats of loyal Republicans is not a cheer, but a sigh.
The GOP nominating race has been reduced to four men.
One, Ron Paul, is really running to explain libertarianism to the American people, make it seem more mainstream, less scary and more acceptable when it comes time for his son, Rand Paul, 49, a Republican senator from Kentucky, to run for president.
One, Newt Gingrich, has already exploded in a puff of moon dust, a victim not so much of his ideas, as of his own bitterness and lack of self-discipline.
One, Mitt Romney has burned through an incredible amount of money convincing Republicans he is not really one of them. No matter how many opponents he has plowed under -- Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman -- there has always been a new one to spring up.
As a recent commentator neatly summed it up: "Mitt Romney spent $33 million (in January) destroying Newt Gingrich, and all he got was Rick Santorum in return."
Which leaves the Republicans with Rick Santorum atop the polls. And while this has gladdened the hearts of some "true" conservatives, others in the party look at the fall match-up -- Rick Santorum vs. Barack Obama -- and see a mismatch.
In a long, balanced and very good analysis of Santorum in the s Washington Post, Dan Balz reports: "Privately, strategists in both parties predict huge problems for Santorum.
A GOP strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to be candid, predicted that Santorum would be 'eviscerated' by the Democrats in a general election."
Oh, is that all?
There are the fantasists who think that somebody -- Sarah Palin, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush -- can ride into the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., in late August and ride out with the nomination.
But that's not going to happen.
The party is not going to turn its back on a candidate who has made the long, hard, expensive slog through the primary process, enduring the debates, appealing to voters and amassing delegates, in favor of somebody who swoops down and tries to gain victory without breaking a sweat.
Republicans don't roll that way. Maybe they should this year. But they won't.
The Republicans have faced the same unappetizing choice from the beginning: In a year in which the economy could play the pivotal role in the election, the party can either nominate Mitt Romney or take the economy off the table.
Santorum would be happy to talk about faith (he's for it), abortion (he's against it even in cases of rape and incest) and birth control ("I don't think it's a healthy thing for our country," he says) all day long.
And do you know who would be even happier? Barack Obama. Obama would be delighted to make this election about anything but the economy.
Santorum has an economic plan. He has a jobs plan. He has an energy plan. He has positions like, "Hydraulic fracturing has turned oil shale into an economically viable resource."
But, having attended several of his speeches, I can honestly report hearing much more about conservative values than about hydraulic fracturing.
Romney is hoping that his party wakes up, blinks once or twice and says: "Rick Santorum is really electable as president? In what parallel universe?"
And to make that point, Romney is bringing in his big gun: Donald Trump.
Some (well, me, actually) think Romney's campaign made a huge mistake in making a splashy show of accepting Trump's endorsement in early February (I would have hidden under a bed), demonstrating that it was so disconnected from the real world that it actually thought Trump was something other than a TV showman and buffoon.
No wonder Republicans are sighing.
Editor's note: syndicated columnist roger Simon is the national political editor for Politico.
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