Just how weak is the 2102 Republican presidential field? Newt Gingrich - the perennial benchwarmer who every four years tells anyone who'll listen that he's really, really going to run (all the while pitching his latest thrilling book, often selling dozens) but whose negatives are through the roof (see Gingrich, Newt: Divorces, Government Shutdowns, Political Flip-Floppery) - is really, really going to run this time.
In second place - Donald Trump. Seriously.
The sad-sackery in the GOP is nearly boundless. Just listen to the list of front-runners, according to the latest NBC-WSJ poll: Mitt Romney (who was out in 2008 before Super Tuesday and who lost to a "maverick" Republican nearly old enough to be his dad); Tim Pawlenty, almost completely unknown outside of whatever state he was once governor or senator of, and who is so bland that even "milquetoast" is too racy an adjective; Mike Huckabee, a former governor who generated buzz in 2008 by finishing THIRD in the New Hampshire primary behind Mr. Romney and the eventual nominee; Rick Santorum (who?); and Haley Barbour, the brilliant Mississippi governor who can raise a billion dollars but who polls at just 1 percent.
There are others: Sarah Palin, whose negatives rival Mr. Gingrich's and who clearly is enjoying a campaign-free life, and Rep. Michele Bachmann, a tea party darling but political lightweight from Minnesota, especially if matched against President Obama.
Reuters veteran Steve Holland recently penned an article headlined "Do Republicans Have a Dark Horse Candidate?" Republicans nationwide must have cringed as they read through the list of candidates, and longed for Cliff Young of the Ipsos polling firm to get his wish.
"Theres a lot of room on the public opinion side for someone to emerge who hasnt been talked about that much," he told Mr. Holland.
There were a few more names of the so-called "dark horses": former Gov. George Pataki and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, the latter losing so badly in Florida in 2008 - where he was expected to begin his campaign - that he bailed out the next day.
Even darker horses are New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has said 7,492 times he is not running, and Jon Huntsman, U.S. ambassador to China and a Mormon (see Romney, Mitt - Crushing Defeat in 2008).
The party's real hotshots are either out altogether (Mr. Christie) or are up-and-comers not yet ready for prime time (Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin).
So who is the dark horse? It's Donald Trump, whose ego is even bigger than his poofy combover. He has stomped onto the GOP tundra, crashing through all the namby-pamby pseudo-candidates too frightened to criticize Mr. Obama for skyrocketing gas prices, trillion-dollar deficits, or even declaring war without congressional approval.
The Donald absolutely killed at the Conservative Political Action Conference last month with non-campaign-tested verbiage like this: "I love this country, but this country is going to hell. I would run a great, great country. This country will be great again. It is not great right now. We have huge deficits, we have huge unemployment, we have huge problems. And we're not respected. We're not respected in the world. The world laughs at us. They won't be laughing if I'm president."
Pretty sensible. And he's got Mr. Gingrich and others scared. "He's very inventive," Mr. Gingrich said last week. "And I think, frankly, for a Republican Party that's sometimes a little bit dull - having somebody like Trump hang out is going to guarantee that [the press] will have a lot more to cover."
Mr. Trump is doing the one thing all the other candidates are terrified of: Going straight at Mr. Obama. He doesn't believe the oft-repeated claim by the MSM that Mr. Obama is "unbeatable" in 2012. He doesn't think Mr. Obama is the greatest orator since Cicero (you don't see Mr. Trump with a teleprompter). And he thinks voters will understand when he lays out the complexities that America now faces.
For those GOPers huddled and shivering in the wings, take note. Americans hate timidity - and they hate being talked down to, lied to. Fail to heed Mr. Trump, and you'll find yourself stumping for him next fall.
c Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at jcurl@washingtontimes .com.
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