There’s still time for a white knight — if the GOP can find one

Republicans yearn for a fresh White House option. But are these the choices they're stuck with?

Topics: 2012 Elections, War Room, Chris Christie, Republican Party,

There's still time for a white knight -- if the GOP can find oneClockwise from upper left: Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain

With a presidential field taking shape that is heavy on fringe candidates and light on those with reasonable prospects of capturing the nomination and unseating Barack Obama, the Washington Examiner’s Byron York wrote on Monday that Republicans are “hoping that somewhere, somehow, a superhero candidate will swoop down out of the sky and rescue them from their current lackluster presidential field. They know it’s a fantasy, but they still hope.”

But is it really a fantasy?

I’ve written before about the dearth of white knight possibilities for the GOP. (And the term “white knight” does not apply to Mitch Daniels and Mike Huckabee (and Sarah Palin, for that matter), who are keeping their distance from the race for right now, and may all end up entering; even accounting for their potential presence, the yearning that York describes endures.) The disastrous elections of 2006 and 2008 took rising Republican stars out of the game and prevented the party from installing promising talent in Senate and gubernatorial posts, from which national campaigns are most frequently launched. But while the Republicans’ national bench certainly is thin, it’s not empty.

The most closely watched non-candidate right now is New Jersey’s Chris Christie, who has — for reasons having to do with his home state survival — flatly and repeatedly declared that he won’t run. But Christie is also one of the strongest communicators in politics today, and his war with public sector unions and budget fights with Democrats have made him a national conservative folk hero — so much that a group of GOP fundraisers from Iowa are set to visit Christie in Trenton in an effort to talk him into running. Besides Christie, the name of Jeb Bush still occasionally comes up, even if the baggage of his family name will almost surely keep him from running in 2012. Rep. Paul Ryan has also been mentioned as a potential late entrant, for what it’s worth.



If you assume that Bush won’t run and that Ryan, as a lowly member of the House, simply doesn’t pass the stature test, then Christie really is the only white knight to watch. Skeptics argue that he seems like a formidable prospect now solely because he is so adamant about not running and that he has vulnerabilities that would quickly and easily be exposed as a candidate. They also contend that, due to the realities of modern presidential campaigning, Christie — who would need to assemble a campaign organization from scratch — can’t afford to dawdle if he does want to run. There’s probably some validity to the first point, but on the issue of waiting too long, Christie — and any other potential white knight that might exist — may have more time than is commonly thought.

Granted, the history of late entrants in modern campaigns is spotty at best.

In 1976, when Democrats radically expanded their primary and caucus schedules, both Idaho Sen. Frank Church and California Gov. Jerry Brown entered the contest late — extremely late. Both evidently believed that the old rules — which allowed candidates to demonstrate strength by entering select contests and to then win the nomination at a brokered convention — still applied. But they didn’t. Both Church and Brown (especially) fared strongly and won states, but Jimmy Carter — the only candidate to grasp the importance of contesting every single primary and caucus — had built an insurmountable delegate edge and held them off. 1976 created a precedent for the modern primary era for both parties: Waiting until the action had already begun was too late.

From then on, a “late” entry came to mean late in the calendar year before the primaries and caucuses begin.

In December 1983, for instance, a young Delaware senator named Joe Biden was urged by many Democrats to make a late entry into the 1984 race. The Iowa caucuses were two months off and no clear alternative to Walter Mondale, the former vice president who had locked up virtually every major interest group endorsement, had emerged. Would Biden have filled that void? He decided not to run, so we’ll never know — but it’s hard to say it would have been impossible. After all, Gary Hart — who ultimately became Mondale’s chief rival and who nearly stole the nomination from him — was barely registering in national or early state polls in December ’83 and had no money and little organization. But when he finished a very distant second place in Iowa (with 16 percent, compared to Mondale’s 49) his campaign became the vehicle for everyone who wanted to deny Mondale the nod. A week later he won New Hampshire, and then 14 more states — none of which he’d even been organized in as of December ’83 — after that.

Hart himself was a late entrant for the 1988 cycle, although this example comes with an asterisk: He’d started out as the race’s front-runner (by virtue of his strong ’84 showing), only to see his campaign destroyed by a sex scandal in May 1987. But then, with Democrats bemoaning their field of “seven dwarfs,” he jumped back in just before the New Hampshire filing deadline in December ’87. At first, Hart surged to the lead in national polls — and into contention in both Iowa and New Hampshire. But the baggage from his scandal was too much. Raising money and rebuilding a campaign team proved impossible, and his support quickly evaporated. He was a nonfactor by the time Iowa and New Hampshire came around.

There’s also the case of Mario Cuomo, who agonized right up until the New Hampshire filing deadline in December 1991 over whether to seek the Democratic nomination. The New York governor passed, literally leaving a plane idling at an Albany airport, and clearing the way for Bill Clinton to become the party’s nominee. Perhaps a Cuomo candidacy would have been a disaster. But when you consider the supreme damage that was inflicted on Clinton by several scandals in January and February 1992 (one of which involved a tape recording in which Clinton and Gennifer Flowers derided Cuomo as “Mafioso”), it’s very tempting to conclude that Cuomo would have prevailed had he run.

A more successful late entrant came on the Republican side: Steve Forbes, who was a completely unknown magazine publisher when he jumped into the 1996 GOP race in the fall of 1995. By that point, his fellow candidates had been running hard for months; the Iowa straw poll — at which Phil Gramm scored an upset by tying Bob Dole — had already been held as had several debates. But Forbes poured millions of his own dollars into television and radio ads promoting his own flat tax plan and denigrating Dole. By mid-January, weeks before the state’s lead-off primary, he was running in first place in New Hampshire and had become a genuine national sensation. At that point, Forbes’ foes ganged up on him (and the media scrutiny intensified) and his numbers ebbed. In the end, he won 12 percent in New Hampshire, good for fourth place, then scored upset victories in Arizona and Delaware, only to be finished off by Dole on Super Tuesday. Forbes was a flawed candidate, but despite his late start, he ended up faring far better than many of his rivals.

More recently, we’ve seen Democrat Wesley Clark in the 2004 cycle and Republican Fred Thompson in 2008 also go the late-starter route. Each man’s entry was preceded by months of increasingly breathless speculation, and neither came close to living up to the hype (even if Clark did win a state). But was it because they started late, or because they were just lousy candidates?

Maybe Chris Christie would be a dud as a candidate, too. But it’s also possible that, unlike (say) Thompson, he’d be capable of living up to the hype. And if he could do that, then it wouldn’t really matter if he entered the race now or three months from now — Republicans would be thrilled to have him. 

Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>