Oval Office Thunderdome: “Nobody Loves Me, It’s True…”

With a little under a year remaining before the general election, GOP voters are soon going to have to get serious and pick a candidate. For months now, the mantle of frontrunner has passed from Mitt Romney to Michele Bachmann back to Romney to Rick Perry to Romney again to Herman Cain and back to Romney, with Newt Gingrich’s once dead campaign showing signs of life. Polls aren’t votes. What is known is the GOP base does not seem to want Mitt Romney to be their candidate, but no other credible party member has chosen to throw their hat in the ring. Romney should be able to wait out the rest of the fools in this circus and get the nod to run against President Obama.

This election season is fascinating. Opposition parties pray for conditions like these. The economy is in the tank, unemployment is high and holding, the president’s approval ratings are anemic, and his first term’s one big domestic policy win, the Affordable Care Act, is despised and demonized by the right and disowned by the left. Obama has smelled like a one-termer for over a year now.

One would think that a flood of GOP all-stars would be clamoring for the nomination, but instead the field is made up mostly of tea party darlings and outright whackos. The fringe has been steering the debate since Obama took office, and it’s now clear that fringe is trying to drive the GOP off a cliff. Most likely, there are two outcomes and two outcomes only. One: the GOP nominates Mitt Romney and he wins the general election. Two: the GOP nominates anyone else and Obama wins reelection. It’s that simple. Watching this dance as the GOP tries to anoint anyone but Romney is like watching a study in denial.

The GOP norm has gone so far to the right that the only candidates with the necessary ideological purity are not just unacceptable to a large percentage of Americans, they are downright frightening.

That is why all Romney has to do to get the nomination is not fuck up. Don’t say anything stupid. Stay fluid with policy proposals (charges of being a flip-flopper are easy to manage when one’s opponents are so extreme). Go easy on attacking the other potential nominees. Stay focused on Obama. Don’t get caught with a dead girl or a live boy. Just let the crazy people thin out the ranks on their own, then swoop in and collect the prize.

Nate Silver wrote a piece in the New York Times last week handicapping Obama’s chances next year. In a nutshell, if Romney is the nominee, there needs to be significant economic improvement for the president to come out a winner, while any of the other candidates are supremely beatable. One thing about the article is it quantifies what has been intuitively obvious about the election since last spring.

The Obama reelection campaign seems to agree, as they, through the soft money tap opened by the Citizens United case, have begun producing commercials linking Romney to the tea party. At first glance, it looks like the Obama team is trying to derail Romney before he gets the nomination. But why would they do that by strengthening his conservative credentials? It would seem such a strategy would be to Romney’s benefit. So this strategy is either a huge miscalculation, or the Obama team feels a Romney nomination is inevitable no matter what they do, and are looking to poison the general public on Romney ahead of the actual two-way race. If that is their thinking, it’s a hell of a gamble, but might be the only play that can be made at this early juncture. So while the GOP candidates campaign against each other, Obama is already campaigning against Romney.

Right now, the GOP nominating race is a joke. It’s clogged with candidates who have no business near the Oval Office. There won’t be a liberal running for president next year, but thank God, there won’t be a conservative, either.