Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, John Huntsman, and Newt Gingrich are all considered potential candidates for the Republican primary for president in 2012. In Gallup poll done mid-November, Romney, Palin, Huckabee, and Gingrich were at the top of the Republican field. What do they all have in common? They don't currently serve in an elected position.
This has been a remarkable contour of the potential Republican field in 2012. I had to check Wikipedia to remind myself, but during the 2008 presidential primaries, there were eight Democrats that participated in primary debates. All held elected office while they were campaigning. Conversely, twelve Republicans participated in primary debates. Seven of the twelve did not hold an elected office at the time. I don't know what it means, entirely.
If I were to guess (and given my record of political handicapping, I shouldn't) I would suspect it reflects the fractious nature of the modern conservative movement and the malaise establishment Republicans feel towards the Tea Party. What was once lampooned has become fact. The Republican Party doesn't have any leadership. They have been able to unite around saying "No" to every question or proposal Obama makes, but beyond that things are a mess. That can change, as there is an eternity of news cycles between now and the first primary, but right now things aren't well within the party (as evidenced when Glenn Beck and Bill Kristol publicly spar).
What do the above professional candidates have to offer to salve the party? I'm not really sure. With the exception of Amb. Huntsman, they have pretty established name recognition. Their brand is pretty well known among Republicans (and the public) and opinions on each individual are pretty well established. There aren't many people sitting on the fence if you ask them about Sarah Palin, and I think that's a liability for her and the rest of the professional candidates. It can be done. Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan (who had a centennial celebration over the weekend he wasn't alive for, but that's another post) all won the nomination when they did not hold an elected position. However, only Reagan defeated a first-term president. It's worth noting, the president he defeated was dealing with the Iranian hostage crisis and a cardigan addiction.
Maybe the second half of President Obama's term will present a lingering wound, akin to the Iranian hostage crisis? Maybe President Obama will develop an unhealthy liking for cashmere? Barring either of those instances, I would put my money on a Republican that holds elected office right now to win the nomination. Of course, as Chris Cillizza reminded us yesterday, there are no actual candidates for the Republican primary at this point.