We can discount Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and ex-Senator Rick Santorum because they are both too extreme to appeal to independent voters - not all Republicans belong to the (modern definition of the) tea party, after all. Congressman Ron Paul, while easily the most intelligent and skeleton- and hypocrisy-free candidate, will not win the nomination because he is just far too extreme, and his libertarianism wouldn't permit Republicans to ban women's right to decide what to do with their bodies, and would defile Jesus by telling the government to get out of deciding who can get married. While his dedicated supporters will follow him around the country, they can still only vote once. John Huntsman, another candidate who suffers from being able to think outside popular rhetoric, is just not being taken seriously at all.
It is going to be a showdown between ex-Massachusetts governor and flip-flopper extraordinaire, Mitt Romney, Uz-busi-busi-busi-businessman Herman Cain, controversial ex-House speaker Newt Gingrich and erm, uh, hmmmm, erm, who's the last one? Oops. Oh yes, Texas governor Rick Perry.
Romney's unpopularity is fairly well-known and easy to identify.
1) He was governor of a blue state.
2) He, on record, backed a woman's right to choose whether she wanted to terminate her pregnancy (but has since changed his mind).
3) He backed Massachusetts' relatively restrictive gun control laws (but has since changed his mind).
4) He said he would fight for equality for homosexual people (he now supports the defence of marriage act which would ultimately ban gay marriage).
5a) He had a statewide healthcare plan for Massachusetts from which, according to numerous sources, Barack Obama pinched ideas his own healthcare reform which is, ironically, causing more heart attacks within the Republican base than no healthcare would. (He professes a distaste for Obama's healthcare bill now, on the grounds that states should decide their own fortunes.)
5b) Under the healthcare bill which he signed in 2006, illegal immigrants could get medical attention.
At every one point in time, he has been on the wrong side of a very strong electoral issue with the members of his party. However, Romney remains the fancied candidate because of the sheer screw-ups his competitors seem to be making. While there is a far larger faction which doesn't want Romney, it is split between Cain, Perry and Gingrich. Which should present them with a fair few opportunities.
And in my humble opinion, Perry is best-placed to take advantage of this.
Herman Cain can't seem to stop messing up. Even if we remove the sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations against the man, of which we still don't yet have conclusive proof, Cain seems to make a daily cock-up which the media pounces on. It started with the piss-taking of Uz-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan which is actually quite an important nation when it comes to the war in Afghanistan. He moved onto China attempting to test nukes. Weird, as they were also doing that in the 1950s, and launched their first nuclear missile in 1966. He seized up on a fairly simple question about Libya, and then dropped the same answer he'd given at a Republican debate about Afghanistan, and then blamed the questioner for being out to make him look bad. He asked what the Cuban word for "delicious" was. His 999 plan is an absolute fiscal disaster, no matter how much voters may dislike the current tax plan.
Gingrich's rise in the polls will in all likelihood come to an end. Bear in mind every poll you see within the next 24 hours will not take into account the revelation that Gingrich was paid a $1.6 million consulting fee by Freddie Mac, a pretty hated government institution which is often blamed for the housing bubble which preceded the financial crisis in 2008. In theory, it is anathema to voter wanting smaller government to vote for someone who was complicit in a large one (full disclosure: many Democrats and other Republicans are guilty of precisely the same thing). This is on top of some of the more socially conservative voters' qualms about his exploits outside his marriage. While I think the latter is a rather low priority when it comes to selecting leaders, it IS an issue for many (Republicans and Democrats, by the way). Gingrich also has a history aligned with a shut-down congress during his term as House speaker (from 1995 to 1999), which isn't so hot to have on your CV when Congressional approval ratings, according to polls, sit below that of almost everyone except Cuba.
This leaves us with only Rick Perry who may have been as effective during debates as a condom with air vents, but has had a storming week since he hashed the name of the third government department he would shut down if he was president. Perry started by dealing with the fallout thereof, self-deprecating with his Texan drawl on David Letterman and numerous press conferences afterwards. He has one of the largest donor bases and is abusing the hell out of it, with adverts lambasting President Barack Obama, and staying consistent with his message of sorting out Washington and social conservatism. All of Perry's dirt has been in the open and is old news: his in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants so as not to have extra unemployed mouths for the state to feed, holidays at a farm called Niggerhead etc etc. Although Perry was once a Democrat in the 1980s, it was a hell of a long time before Romney's pro-Democrat leanings, and a Texan Democrat is still a conservative, pro-business politician. Perry is pro-life, anti-gay marriage, pro-Don't Ask Don't Tell, loves guns and has a history running Texas.
Finally, with his dirt out in the open, Perry is beginning to talk about the things he wants to talk about: Texas' marvellous run in creating jobs while the rest of the country's unemployment rate has increased. There are two views about whether this was beneficial to most Texans or not, but hell, he is bragging and in a presidential campaign he damn well should be. Perry also didn't flub foreign policy at last week's other debate, coming through largely unscathed. While others also made it through alright, Cain's repeated dribble relating to anything outside the border continues to plague him (hell, if I was Hawaii I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him). Perry's other big idea is shake up how Washington DC runs. While he would actually be seeking constitutional amendments, and is unlikely to ever get them, he has concrete plans to go along with his rhetoric, such as reduced hours for Congress so they can work in states, reduced terms for justices (which currently run for life) to 18 years, staggered so that a new judge is elected every two years. Gingrich is the only other non-Romney Republican in the race and for reasons I expressed earlier, I don't think his bounce in the polls will last long. An invitation for a debate with minority House leader Nancy Pelosi was a good show of confidence, and his bluff remained in tact as she declined.
Perry's huge advertising budget goes hand in hand with his ability to campaign. He is known as a master on-the-ground campaigner. Add to this a solid set of socially conservative policies, a state which has created more jobs than any other (and by quite some margin), pro-business speak, and the fact that he's never lost an election, and, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you someone who can break up the non-committal poll results we consistently see.
This is all on the proviso, however, that he doesn't screw up anymore.