Cain, Perry, Bachmann...Is Romney in by Default?

Cain, Perry, Bachmann...Is Romney in by Default?

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Eight little, seven little, six little, five little Republicans….

As the days before the Iowa Caucuses (Jan. 3) and the New Hampshire primary (Jan. 10) dwindle, the main field of Republican presidential contenders – Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum – seems to be on the verge of thinning out.

In Iowa, according to a Bloomberg News survey, there is a dead heat between four candidates –Cain with 20 percent, Paul with 19 percent, Romney with 18 percent, and a suddenly surging Gingrich with 17 percent. With a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4, the race is statistically even.

But the poll was conducted between November 10 and 12, before yesterday’s video of an interview Cain gave in Milwaukee wherein he badly fumbled a question about Libya. Cain said in a meeting with the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Okay, Libya. [long pause] President Obama supported the uprising, correct? …I do not agree with the way he handled it for the following reason. Uh, no, that's a different one. I got to go back, see, got all this stuff twirling around in my head." 

Cain was tired, his campaign explained. He had four hours sleep.

Of course, of course. He’s been endlessly on the road – either promoting his new book about himself, running from debate to debate, tying to tamp down allegations of sexual harassment, or even campaigning. So it’s entirely understandable that when asked a question about Libya, he would at first bad-mouth Obama and then apparently be completely befuddled. Like he was having a Rick Perry moment.

(Does anyone with access to television or the Internet need to be reminded that in a recent debate the Texas Governor could not remember the third of three Cabinet-level departments he would shut down as the President he’s never going to be?)

But beyond Cain’s monumental lack of foreign policy knowledge or, perish the thought, expertise – guess what. We pay Presidents to be alert at all times. We chose them, presumably, because they have agile and informed minds. We rely on them to make smart and potentially momentous decisions when that 3 a.m. call comes and the Defense Secretary says Iran has jets headed toward Israel (though the mullahs are probably not that stupid) or a looney tune in North Korea decides it might be fun to fire off a rocket and take out Seoul.

So mental confusion, Mr. Cain and Governor Perry, does matter.

So does conviction, Mr. Romney. After all the flips and flops, apparently your one true belief is that you should be President.

So does truth, Rep. Bachmann. Your flubbed candidacy is an extraordinary exercise in serial exaggerations and/or flat-out wrong pronouncements represented with vigor as fact. (Have the words “I was wrong” ever passed your lips?)

So does smugness, former Senator Santorum and former Speaker Gingrich (and President Obama). America needs and hankers for a leader who doesn’t preach and pontificate. Who just digs in and decides.

Maybe that’s why Ron Paul’s star is rising in Iowa (though he still trails Romney and Cain in New Hampshire polling). As he has fearlessly demonstrated throughout the debate season, he has a sharp mind, deep convictions, an almost politically suicidal respect for the truth, and a certain humbleness. But for many reasons, including his age and cantankerous demeanor, he remains an unlikely nominee.

But one of the darkest horses in this race shares a good many of Paul’s attributes. Jon Huntsman, who polls nationally at around 3 percent but who fares well in hypothetical electability match-ups with Obama, is erudite, has convictions (witness his denunciation of waterboarding at last Saturday’s GOP debate), and isn’t so smug you want to push a pie in his face.

Besides, he has executive experience as the former governor of Utah and international expertise as a former U.S. ambassador to Beijing – and iss fluent in Mandarin. The latter credential is one that would be of exceptional value as America confronts an ever-more-powerful China in the years ahead. 

And you get the feeling that Huntsman would be able to handle that 3 a.m. call without becoming confused and thinking Iran is Iraq – or   maybe forgetting that he’s the president and not in Texas anymore.