The Plank

The Phantom Menace

By and

More good news for the GOP: A new AP poll reveals that the party's most popular presidential candidate is "none of the above," clocking in at about a quarter of Republican respondents and besting presumed frontrunners Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney, and John McCain.

Until recently, of course, this was Thompson's constituency. The problem is that, though he still hasn't declared he's running, his actual name now appears in polls, forcing respondents to favor him affirmatively rather than see him as an entirely generic alternative to the existing field of flip-floppers, ideological heretics, and also-rans. The lesson for any other lurking GOP hopefuls would seem to be: Don't just avoid running until the last instant; avoid any appearance that you're even considering running until the last instant. If, when the primaries roll around, voters know nothing at all about you other than the fact that you're a Republican, you may have a leg up on the competition.

Indeed, the AP poll raises the further question of what would happen if the GOP declined to nominate anyone. It's not clear to me that a blank party line would do any worse in a general election matchup against a Clinton or Obama--among other advantages, it would be relatively immune to attack ads--and it's hard to see how an empty chair in the Oval Office could do any worse a job of governing than our current president.

--Christopher Orr

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