The first Republican primary debate is scheduled for next Thursday in Greenville, South Carolina, and none of the cool kids are going to be there. Newt Gingrich says he's not ready, and if Newt's not going, Mitt Romney isn't, either. Mike Huckabee might not even run; Haley Barbour isn't running; Mitch Daniels needs more time; Jon Huntsman is still in China. The only serious contender who has pledged to attend the debate so far is former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who, Politico reports, is now trying to get his fellow heavyweights on board through passive-aggressive statements:
"My Presidential exploratory committee will file the necessary papers and fees with the South Carolina Secretary of State next Tuesday because it's important that Republicans show up now, talk about their records, and begin the debate on how best we can defeat this President," Pawlenty said, not mentioning any rivals by name.
But Pawlenty won't be the only GOP candidate on the stage in Greenville. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) says he'll be there. Godfather Pizza CEO Herman Cain might be there, too. Same goes for former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer. (Things aren't looking good for Fred Karger, though.) That's not a very glamorous ensemble. But it could make for an interseting night.
Those candidates represent three distinct, occasionally disagreeable aspects of the Republican party. Roemer is a former Democrat who has based his candidacy in large part on the need to end subsidies for the energy industry—including not just ethanol, but oil and gas too. Cain has used his platform to push the most extreme anti-Islam message of any of the candidates, at times going so far as to promise not to hire any Muslims in his administration. You know where Paul stands—anti-war, anti-Fed, pro-pot, pro-gold.
None of them will win the Republican nomination, but they stand a very good chance of saying something that will force Pawlenty to take a stand on something he'd rather avoid. What does he think about billion-dollar handouts to oil companies? How far is he willing to take his new anti-Sharia schtick? If nothing else, we'll be spared the usual monotony—some awkward one-liners, a few canned barbs, and a whole lot of forced references to Ronald Reagan.