Published September 29, 2011
Recent efforts to coax New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie into running for president are the latest example of continuing dissatisfaction among some Republican insiders with the existing GOP presidential field.
"Unhappy with field, GOP courts Christie," reports MSNBC.
Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, called Herman Cain's victory in Saturday's Florida GOP straw poll "a vote of no confidence" in frontrunners Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. "These are very weak frontrunners," Kristol said, urging Christie to enter the race as he had earlier hoped that Mitch Daniels and Paul Ryan would run.
John Heilemann, author of the '08 campaign bestseller "Game Change," says the feeling is particularly strong among top Republican donors. "There's no doubt that there is a clamor in a lot of the Republican donor class, in this city [New York] and other cities right now, for Chris Christie," Heilemann said Tuesday. "It's deafening."
There's no doubt the talk is accurate. Some Republican elites, not just members of the commentariat but also big GOP money men, are in fact unhappy with the field. But what about the voters? Is dissatisfaction with the Republican field widespread among the people who will actually decide the next GOP presidential nominee?
Not really. "I do not know of any widespread unhappiness," says pollster Scott Rasmussen. "Our polling shows that the vast majority of Republicans still are not certain how they would vote, but that's a sign that it's still very early in the process, not a sign of unhappiness."
"I'm not sure I've seen any," says Republican pollster David Winston. "There is this sense that since we haven't gotten to a clear, decisive winner, then that means there must be dissatisfaction. But it could mean that people are still thinking it through."
Anecdotal impressions support what the pollsters say. I have been in Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida in recent weeks and talked with a lot of voters. While a few are unhappy with their choices -- there are always some voters who feel that way -- there just does not seem to be much overall dissatisfaction with the field. Voters realize there is no perfect candidate in the race -- that might be an understatement this time around -- but that doesn't mean they believe there is some perfect candidate out there over the horizon, waiting to enter the race.
State-level polling also does not suggest that dissatisfaction is widespread among Republican voters. A recent Suffolk University poll of New Hampshire voters found that 68 percent say they are very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the field, while 30 percent say they are very dissatisfied or somewhat dissatisfied. Breaking down those numbers, 16 percent say they are very satisfied and 52 percent say they are somewhat satisfied with the field. Among dissatisfied voters, 19 percent say they are somewhat dissatisfied, while 11 percent say they are very dissatisfied. Rasmussen says that 11 percent -- the number of people who are most intensely unhappy -- is a very, very small number.
"I am somewhat irritated with the desire to pick a winner now," says Rasmussen. "Most voters still have the quaint notion that the election will be held in 2012, not 2011…My view of the GOP race is that Romney has won the establishment semi-finals by beating Pawlenty and Huntsman. Now, the outsider candidate has to be selected. GOP voters would prefer to vote for an outsider, but want to make sure it's the right outsider, and no one has closed that sale yet. Establishment Republicans (and some Democrats) seem puzzled that GOP voters aren't flocking to Romney, and that's probably causing some of the stories you're hearing about."
The bottom line, then, is that there is a difference between an electorate that is undecided and an electorate that is unhappy with its choices. It may turn out that GOP voters would welcome a new candidate -- few voters will ever tell a pollster that they don't want any more choices -- but that does not mean they are dissatisfied with what they have now. The much-discussed dissatisfaction, such as it is, is concentrated among Republican party insiders, not voters.
Byron York is a Fox News contributor and chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.com.