Seven Days in May: How One Week Clarified the GOP Field

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So here’s what we know for certain today that we could only bet on last Monday morning: Mike Huckabee is out. Newt Gingrich is officially in. Jon Huntsman finally broke cover. And Ron Paul is back.

And just like that, the Republican primary is underway.If you weren’t convinced that the games are now officially afoot, check out what Mitt Romney is up to Monday. Friends of the former Massachusetts governor are hosting a one day money-palooza during which they hope to raise a few million dollars. This is likely to prove to be a sandbagger’s game; Romney’s moneymen are more likely shooting to raise several times that amount over 24 hours so that they can underscore the impression that he is the inevitable frontrunner. Romney’s going to need the cash if he is going to survive what many expect could be some defeats in early primaries next winter. But over in Romneyland, they are going to wake up Tuesday morning and sound surprised and humbled about this one day burst of financial support.

That’s a reminder that everyone in this field is a little bit handicapped.

The Romney campaign sometimes seems better at underscoring, rather than mending, its problems with authenticity.

It will be interesting to watch and see if Huntsman can go from being Obama’s envoy to Beijing to dealing with the Manchester Union Leader. (His unlikely base in the legation-packed Kalorama neighborhood of Washington, DC, could soften any bumpy landing.)

Gingrich’s biggest danger is himself — and what he might, at any moment, say out loud.

And Pawlenty’s problem actually wears a skirt: Instead of being the only local hero in the Iowa cacuses, he now runs the very real risk of running into Michele Bachmann on the short hops from Minneapolis to Des Moines. Born in Waterloo, Iowa, the charismatic Bachmann was never in Pawlenty’s game plan.

These factors might help explain why some people have taken Donald Trump’s March-to-June romance with the GOP nomination seriously. But I am guessing even he he will be disappearing from this lineup as soon as those network TV programming schedules are nailed down.

And that Hamlet on the Wabash, Mitch Daniels, may not be the great white hope that some think. Even setting aside his somewhat unusual family situation, Daniels would still have to hurry to put together an organization, do some message testing and figure out his finances. Even if he makes up his mind to go, he is still looking at the need to raise about $100,000 a day if he wants to compete. It is true that remnants of the Bush fundraising operation are dangling $10 to 20 million in front of Daniel’s uncertain eyes. But not everyone in Republican banking circles thinks that crew can actually come through with that kind of cash for a man who raised (a few, selected) taxes in Indiana.

The field is still likely to produce a ticket that will give Barack Obama a challenge next year. “If the White House thinks a Romney-Daniels ticket would be a cakewalk,” a veteran Democratic party official said recently, “it has another thing coming.”

But as the field settles, the starting gun fires and the horses jump, let’s take one last look back at those who scratched themselves from the card: Haley Barbour, John Thune, Rick Perry, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush — and now Fox star Huckabee.

What did those guys see that the remaining hopefuls did not?

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