Friday Line: Ten Republicans to Watch



Party leaders and 2012 contenders will help give voice to the GOP as it looks to define itself. From left, Louisiana Go. Bobby Jindal, RNC Chairman Michael Steele, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
The Fix is still getting acquainted with our new arrival -- Charlie Cillizza! -- but we couldn't let a Friday pass without giving our readers a new Line.
Given the focus on the Conservative Political Action Committee gathering this weekend -- rightly interpreted as the first major event of the 2012 GOP nomination fight -- we thought now would be the right time to revisit our list of the 10 Republicans to watch as the party seeks to redefine itself in the wake of the disastrous elections of 2006 and 2008.
This should not be taken purely as a handicapping of the 2012 field since some of the people on the list aren't even politicians. Rather, it's an attempt to rank the major voices in the GOP in terms of their ability to influence the direction of the party over the next two to four years.
The number one ranking is for the person with the most power over that direction. Agree or disagree? The comments section awaits.
10. Rush Limbaugh: The conservative talk radio host has seen his profile descend a bit from the heights of last month when he was in a daily back and forth with the Obama administration. But, that doesn't mean Limbaugh is any less influential. Notice in all of the stories about Bobby Jindal's Republican response on Tuesday night, Limbaugh is quoted speaking out in favor of the Louisiana governor. People within the party -- at the professional and grassroots level -- listen to and care about what Limbaugh thinks about any given issue or event. That's why he stays on the Line this month. (Previous ranking: 8)
9. Newt Gingrich: The former Speaker of the House remains one of the people Republicans fear/admire most. Why? Because, regardless of what you think of Gingrich, it's hard to deny that he is a voice of innovation and ideas within the political realm. It's not clear what Gingrich wants for his political future although sharp observers we talk to believe that the Georgia Republican knows he can't run for president in 2012 but wants to be influential in the debate leading up to that election. It's hard to imagine he won't be. (Previous ranking: N/A)
8. Eric Cantor: The Virginia Republican proved during the stimulus debate that he was ready to fulfill the potential that many party strategists have long believed he possesses. While Cantor (and his office) were slightly unsteady, his strong defense of conservative principles and likable demeanor distinguished him in the debate. President Obama also did Cantor a favor earlier this week after the Fiscal Responsibility Summit -- insisting from the podium that he would find a way to work with the House Minority Whip sometime soon. (Previous ranking: 9)
7. Bobby Jindal: Was Jindal's response to the Obama congressional address earlier this week a stem winder of the sort that will catapult him into a mega-star in the national political firmament a la Barack Obama at the 2004 Democratic National Convention? Definitely not. Was it an unmitigated disaster that either badly diminishes or disqualifies him in 2012? Definitely not. (Can you remember one minority party response to a State of the Union? Neither can we.) To our mind, Jindal's biggest problem isn't that he sounds like Kenneth from "30 Rock" but that if he runs for reelection as governor of Louisiana in 2011 (as he has pledged to do), he will struggle to lavish the kind of attention on Iowa and New Hampshire that voters in those states have come to expect and covet. (Previous ranking: 4)
6. Tim Pawlenty: T-Paw is the tortoise of the 2012 race -- carefully picking his spots to speak out on the national stage, always wary of overexposure or a misstep. There are strengths and weaknesses to that strategy. On the positive side, Pawlenty avoids looking desperate or craven with three years before the election, and he has some time outside of the national spotlight to hone his message. On the negative, he seems resistant to putting together the sort of political structure -- advisers who have been through this process before, a political action committee that allows him to donate to would-be supporters in places like Iowa and New Hampshire -- that other candidates (Romney, Palin) are already building. (Previous ranking: 6)
5. Mark Sanford: Of all the Republicans looking seriously at 2012, Sanford, the governor of South Carolina, is the one who has leaned the furthest forward. He has been everywhere of late -- op-ed pages, television, state party gatherings -- as a strident voice in opposition to the economic stimulus bill. Having watched Sanford all the way back to his years in Congress in the late 1990s, we can testify that while he can come across slightly didactic when discussing issues, he is also a VERY gifted communicator on television. His advisers know that fact very well so expect to see him on the national Sunday shows frequently in the coming months. (Previous ranking: 5)
4. Haley Barbour: The Mississippi governor is staying under the radar at the moment but, privately, he is working any number of angles to ensure the party heads in his preferred direction. One example: he was one of handful of governors (and the only one NOT considering a run for president in 2012) to sign a letter urging Republican members of Congress to vote against the economic stimulus plan pushed by President Obama. (Previous ranking: 2)
3. Michael Steele: Steele's victory in the Republican National Committee Chairman's race last month ensured a top five ranking for the Maryland GOPer. While Steele has a tendency to choose hot rhetoric (his pledge to "knock over" those in his way) over a cohesive vision for the party, he is still one of Republicans' most effective -- and active -- communicators on television.
2. Mitt Romney: Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, has the highest work rate of any modern politician we have observed closely. During his run for president last year, Romney's schedule would often be packed with six events a day, a stunning level of activity. He's keeping up that breakneck pace so far in 2009 -- using his Free and Strong America PAC to seed donations to up and coming politicians while penning editorials and providing counsel to congressional Republicans on economic issues. Another major advantage for Romney: much -- though not all -- of his political team has stayed in touch and intact , meaning that if and when he flicks the switch they will be ready to go from, well, day one. (Previous ranking: 3)
1. Sarah Palin: Even in absence, the governor of Alaska is big news. Her absence from the National Governors Association meeting and CPAC over the last week created quite a stir. Why isn't she coming? Should she be? To our mind, Palin is doing the exact right thing. She doesn't need any more publicity for a while. The best thing she can do is spend most of her time in Alaska -- governing well there while also working to broaden her knowledge on national and international issues. The conservative base of the party isn't going to forget her. (Previous ranking: 1)