Bolton Bid Shows Just How Open the 2012 GOP Field Is

John Bolton Mike Clarke / AFP-Getty Images

Sarah Palin's successful endorsements of Joe Miller, Christine O'Donnell, and Kelly Ayotte in recent primaries have set off (sigh) yet another round of will-she-or-won't-she and is-she-the-frontrunner talk about the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. The consensus, at least for now: it's hers for the taking.

Ross Douthat has been working on knocking this one down. His two posts are worth reading, but here's a handy two-word shorthand for just how wide open the GOP battle is: John Bolton.

That's right: the mustachioed former ambassador to the U.N. looks like he's sorta, kinda serious about running for president. You may recall that he first floated this in an interview with the Daily Caller in late August. Then he doubled down, sort of, on Fox Business, and appeared via video at a rally at Ground Zero on Sept. 11. And now, TPM's Jillian Rayfield reports, he's preparing for an Election Day Tea Party rally at Ground Zero. As she says, that could be the machinations of a man interested in mounting a White House run.

Now, it's hard to imagine this going anywhere. Bolton's not especially likable—he has a reputation for bluntness and acidity that has served him well in bureaucracy and think tanks, but wouldn't play as well on the campaign trail. It's hard to recall a candidate so, um, undiplomatic—perhaps Ron Paul or Mike Gravel?—and while that wouldn't preclude him from being a good president, it would be an obstacle to getting there. Even some Republicans don't like him.

More substantively, he has basically no domestic-policy credentials and has mentioned only national security in his trial balloons so far (although lining up with the Tea Party, which is mostly domestic in scope, could be a smart move). The last time Americans elected a president so lopsidedly interested in foreign affairs was Eisenhower, and with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq fading in importance behind the economy, it's hard to see a warmongering platform attracting fans. And the last time we elected a president with a mustache was William Howard Taft, back in 1908.

Flavor savers aside, it's hard to imagine a Bolton bid succeeding. The fact that he's flirting with it is a reflection of just how wide open the GOP battle is. Looking at the rest of the field, Palin is a juggernaut but has remarkably low favorable ratings, as Douthat points out. A poll last week showed only Mike Huckabee beating President Obama in a head-to-head—although it's silly to put too much stock in one poll, especially two years and change out from the election. Indiana Rep. Mike Pence beat out the lot in a straw poll at the Values Voter Summit. And many commentators still believe that Mitt Romney has the best chance.

It's one thing for an ambitious career politician like Tim Pawlenty to be running hard, even if he thinks that someone else—say, Sarah Palin—is the frontrunner. (What else is he going to do? His term as governor is running out, and he's been gunning for the White House for years.) Bolton, however, isn't a lifer, so this is either a vanity project (we'll avoid another mustache joke here) or else he, too, sees chaos and thinks that he might have a fighting chance as a dark horse.

With so much time left, and so many indicators pointing all over the map, he's at least right about the chaos: the nomination could be anybody's. Well, except maybe John Bolton's.