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In Search of the Perfect Candidate

Perfection is a worthy goal, but is almost always unattainable.

The most oft-heard description of the 2012 Republican presidential field is “weak” or “uninspiring.” But these descriptions are only fair when compared to the unachievable: the perfect ideal, which no one person embodies.

What skills, characteristics and experience would the perfect GOP candidate possess?

• Outsider, not tied to Washington, D.C., with enough experience to understand complex national and international issues well enough to never produce a gaffe.

• Years spent as an executive, with no poor decisions that demonstrate a hesitation about conservatism.

• Partisan, but not extreme.

• Thoughtful, but not aloof. 

• Smart, but not brilliant, not Ivy League but not a C student.

• Unquestionable moral rectitude, but a normal, relatable person (read, not “weird”)

Can it be any surprise that the prefect candidate is not currently in the race? Or perhaps not even among the living?

Reduced to its essence, the engaged Republican electorate, that is most likely to vote in the Republican primary wants three things:

1. A Proven Conservative.  In my view, this disqualifies Huntsman and leaves Romney wounded. It qualifies Perry, Cain, Santorum and Bachmann.

2. An Executive. This disqualifies Santorum and Bachmann, who spent two and a half years in Congress and was a state legislator before that. It qualifies Perry, Huntsman, Cain and Romney

3. A Leader Who Will Prosecute Obama. Of the three top tier candidates, this qualifies only Perry and Bachmann. It disqualifies Romney, starting with RomneyCare.

This checklist explains the meteoric rise of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is now the leading GOP field in national polls and who is placing second in New Hampshire, is a likely second in Iowa and is currently placing first in South Carolina – after slightly more than a week as an announced candidate.

Republican primary voters worry about Romney, they are uneasy about his background, his previous propensity to flip flop, his Mormonism, and most directly, RomneyCare. These are significant challenges in the primary, and we will see if his huge financial advantage can earn him the nomination in a long primary race where electability trumps excitement.

The Republican establishment worries about Bachmann, who has never played nicely on Capitol Hill and has few friends or legislative accomplishments there to show for herself. 

While she is far more intelligent than her critics realize, she has often stretched rhetorically to offer cutting sound bites, which have made it easy for others to demonize her. 

Her base appeal and grassroots strength were on display in Iowa recently, but she will have to win the Iowa Caucuses and likely hope Perry implodes to have a chance.

Perry had a good, but not great, week. He garnered significant media coverage nationally and in the early primary/caucus states. He proved himself to be a skilled retail campaigner – perhaps more than any other announced candidate. 

He wedged his way into a back and forth with President Obama, a wise strategic move, and has halted the expected momentum for Bachmann following her narrow Ames Straw Poll win. Whether he can continue to perform well under the white hot glare of the media, without any additional damaging gaffes, is the key question. 

Fundraising will likely be fine, as he is said to be attempting to raise $10 million by August 31, a staggering sum. Indeed, everything is bigger in Texas.

The field remains open, more so than any in my lifetime.

A packed September beckons, with three televised presidential debates, a forum held in Columbia, S.C. by influential conservative Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and the end of the third quarter fundraising period.

With President Obama facing his lowest approval ratings ever (39%) , running for president now appears even more inviting to Republicans.

Now that Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan has announced his decision not run, I suspect we will know for sure in the next three weeks whether or not former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will also stay out of the race. The most likely scenario is that neither of these politicians will enter the race, and that the field is materially set. If any of these candidates were likely to run, waiting until so late only complicates an already Herculean task.

So this leaves us with the three-point checklist and only three top tier candidates: Perry, Bachmann and Romney.

As of now, Perry remains the most likely Republican nominee in 2012. But things can change. Five months is a lifetime in politics.

Matt Mackowiak
is a Washington and Austin-based Republican consultant and president of Potomac Strategy Group, LLC. He is not a paid adviser to any presidential campaign and has been an adviser to two U.S. senators and one governor, and has worked on two winning campaigns.

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