Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

OK, who ISN'T running for the GOP nomination? Anybody?


Over the weekend, Chris Christie, Ted "The Texas Show Pony" Cruz and Marco Rubio all traveled to Athens to court the GOP base at the Georgia Republican convention.

Scott Walker spent the weekend in Iowa, where Rick Perry will be all week. Jeb Bush, in an interview with Christian conservative media over the weekend, says he's against gay marriage, and also not too happy with any more questions about Iraq.

Lindsey Graham trotted out his tough-guy persona for Iowa Republicans and says he's running for sure. Bobby Jindal has also formed an "exploratory committee," although I don't think it has to explore beyond the Louisiana budget mess to get the answer that he doesn't want to hear. Carly Fiorina, believing that nothing qualifies you for the White House better than a failed tenure as CEO and a double-digit loss in a Senate race, nonetheless stole the show at the Lincoln Dinner in Des Moines on Saturday night, which is hard to do when you share the bill with Donald Trump's hair.

Oh, and former New York Gov. George Pataki, Rick Santorum and Ben Carson were there in Des Moines too.

Did I overlook somebody? Oh yeah. Rand Paul. Anybody else? John Kasich? That's right, the governor of Ohio? How could I forget? He's now "virtually certain" to run as well, with trips already planned to New Hampshire and here in Georgia. So that's 15 by my count, and I may have missed a few. (UPDATE: Huckabee! I missed Mike "You Don't Need No Stinking Diabetes Medicine" Huckabee! So that's 16.)

And here's the scariest thing you'll read today: The first Republican presidential debate is just 11 weeks away, with Fox News as its host. It is scheduled for the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, with a capacity of more than 20,000. So it might be a little tight, but I suspect they'll be able to fit all the GOP hopefuls.

You may recall that as part of its autopsy of its 2012 presidential loss, the Republican Party decided that it needed to take a much stronger hand in running its debates, with RNC Chairman Reince Priebus suggesting that the party would go so far as to hand-select moderators. Alarmed by its huge field, the RNC was also talking last week about trying to limit the number of debate participants to a dozen or perhaps as few as nine, which even then would be extremely unwieldy and unpredictable.

But which nine? And who would select them? Could a party trying to highlight its alleged diversity beyond white middle-aged men really ban Carson, Jindal and Fiorina from participating, even though they are clearly on the bottom rung of credibility? Could a party struggling to reconcile its establishment and Tea Party wings allow that establishment to arbitrarily define Tea Party-type candidates out of the debate?

All of a sudden, the prospect of party-run debates began to seem much less appealing. "Ultimately it's the networks' decision," RNC chief strategist Steve Spicer told National Journal. "There's an obligation for the party to make sure the standard is fair. But it's not our decision."

As some Republicans like to spin it, their huge field is evidence that the Democrats are eminently defeatable next year, that Hillary Clinton will prove to be such a weak candidate that everybody wants a shot at her. I don't buy it.

Look at the last cycle: At various points in the primary season, 11 different GOP candidates or potential candidates led in at least one national poll, including Sarah Palin, Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Trump, Michele Bachmann, even Herman Cain. Most of that crowd were no more qualified to be president than the average person walking down the street, but for at least a time, their ability to tell the GOP base what it wanted to hear turned them each of them into the frontrunner. It was pure show biz.

And frankly, much of the country watched that revolving set of frontrunners with a combination of horror and amazement. You cannot sell yourself as a party that is ready to govern when Herman Cain is leading in Republican polls. Priebus and his colleagues have hoped that they could avoid a repeat of that in 2016 by tinkering with the debate schedule, primary schedule, moderator selection process, etc.. But those variables didn't create the problem, and changing them can't fix it.

Don't get me wrong: The potential 2016 GOP field is considerably deeper than its 2012 field, which consisted largely of Mitt Romney and a succession of pretenders. The 2016 field, in contrast, has three to five people whom you could legitimately see as the party's nominee. In one sense that's a sign of strength for the party, but given how much turmoil the party suffered in 2012 trying to winnow the field to the only credible person they had available, it may be suggest an even more trying winnowing process come 2016.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.