Who's the Next GOP Star?

A rudderless party keeps pinning its hopes on losers

The conservative wing of the Republican party meets in Washington D.C. once a year at the Conservative Political Action Conference to discuss such important issues as the threat that Al Franken and ACORN pose to democracy. They also conduct a presidential preference straw poll to decide who they'd be voting for if the election were held the last weekend in February every year.

In 2007 and 2008 Mitt Romney emerged the victor, and the year before that it was George Allen, so CPAC attendees clearly know a future president when they see one.

But who will serve as the party's standard-bearer in the years ahead? Romney still holds some promise because he has the convenience of not actually occupying public office; this means he can just say he hates government spending without being challenged to turn actually turn down federal aid to his state or raise taxes or make any other nasty choices. He's got four years to hang around saying, "I'm a businessman and a turnaround artist, while that Barack Obama is just a community organizer," even as he remains blissfully free of any responsibility to turn anything around.

On the other hand, Romney is still Romney, which means a whole bunch of Republicans don't like him for bringing a socialist healthcare scheme to Taxachusetts.

But who are conservatives' other choices? Sarah Palin looked like a good bet when she gave that whizbang speech at the Republican National Convention last year, and remained promising until she started giving interviews. Bobby Jindal had sort of the reverse problem: he looked great in interviews, but then he gave that speech. Neither of them is attending CPAC this year, out of shame.

Who's left? Nobody even talks about John McCain anymore. Michael Steele? Joe the Plumber? Rick Santelli? The party is certainly welcome to give any of those clowns a whirl, if they're okay with not regaining the White House until Barack Obama's grandchildren have all served out their eight-year terms.

So: Romney it is. Best of luck to him.

Sara K. Smith issues 100 percent reliable political prognostications in scholarly thinkpieces for NBC and Wonkette.

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