After Ames
Richard Brookhiser, Grover Norquist, and more weigh in on the current GOP field.


Now that Ames is over, what does the GOP presidential field look like? NRO asked the experts.

Ken Blackwell
The GOP presidential field is dynamic, but the list of serious contenders is starting to firm up.

Michele Bachmann has moved into the first tier of candidates, joining Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. Tim Pawlenty has dropped out of the race, and it is becoming clear that Sarah Palin will be the base-driver-in-chief in 2012.

Any candidate who tries to run a general-election campaign prematurely will not be the GOP standard bearer in the fall of 2012. For instance, Romney can’t win South Carolina if he can’t win Iowa. Then again, Perry and Bachmann will not be able to put together a winning 50-state strategy if they can’t win in New Hampshire.

If any one of the top-tier candidates can win two of the first three states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina), quite naturally, he or she would be sitting pretty.

The resurgence of constitutional conservatism is real. The candidate who is best at uniting Republicans under this banner will be best positioned to unite all Americans and put us back on a path of moral clarity and prosperity.

Ken Blackwell is senior fellow for family empowerment at the Family Research Council.

Richard Brookhiser
I wrote Tim Pawlenty off when he declared Chablis and brie treif at CPAC in February 2010. More than the demagogy or the stupidity, I hated the screechy tone, like high-school sopranos trying to sing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” I tried calling him Velveeta Tim or V-Paw, but the nicknames wouldn’t stick. His political style stuck, though, through many repetitions — the Obamneycare insult he would not back up, the anti-Bachmann snarls. Ames rebuked him.

Michele Bachmann did what she had to do. No one has jumped directly from the House to the White House since James Garfield. But she has passed the first way station.

The jacquerie of wicked idiots had a good night. Rick Santorum finished fourth; he also finished fewer than 200 votes ahead of Herman Cain.

Welcome now to real life, Governor Perry. It’s so much easier being everybody’s dream boat. And welcome, former governor Palin, to your career as winger Oprah. You have chosen it with your eyes open.

And Mitt sits in the loneliness of the candidate who has written off Iowa, hoping that the months until the refreshing snows of New Hampshire will not drag unendurably.

— Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review.

Alex Castellanos
Another playoff game is done. Bachmann advances. Pawlenty doesn’t. Despite sufficient money, time, organization, and exposure, Pawlenty couldn’t make the sale. Losing when they don’t know you is tough. Losing when they do know you extinguishes you.

But the real loser may still be Bachmann. Her victory may trap her in the Iowa State coliseum. Her instinct now will be to out-conservative Rick Perry, just like she out-conservatived Pawlenty. But Bachmann is already plenty conservative. Not even Ronald Reagan could get to her right. What she needs to prove now is that she can grow an economy and win independents in the fall. What she needs to prove is that she is not too extreme to beat Barack Obama. Otherwise, she will never be nominated. And this will be the day her campaign peaked.

— Alex Castellanos is a Republican media consultant residing in Alexandria, Va.