So apparently within seconds of when I finished my Chris Christie item, news broke that he's not running after all. Since this is about the 32nd time we've heard that news there's no way yet to know whether it will take or not, and we still have Sarah Palin to contend with, but we're only a few weeks away from ending the quadrennial "who will run for the nomination" rumors.
Which means it's time for "who will run as an independent?" speculation.
So be prepared for that. Just to put a little timeline to it -- Ross Perot's 1992 campaign was launched with a February 20, 1992 appearance on the Larry King show. My vague impression is that ballot access laws are somewhat easier to overcome now than they were than (although I'm nothing close to an expert and could be entirely wrong); certainly it is a lot easier to quickly mobilize a whole bunch of people in 2012 than it was in 1992. And John Anderson dropped out of the 1980 Republican nomination contest to run as a third-party candidate in April. So depending on laws and all that, we could see speculation from now until, say, May. If it turns out that the GOP contest is long and hard-fought, it's very possible that both Mitt Romney and Rick Perry could suffer poor approval ratings for a while, which should encourage such speculation, especially if Barack Obama's approval rating stays right around 40% or drops further.
Will it happen? Stan Greenberg recently said (in an otherwise recommended interview) that "Somebody will run as an independent in 2012. You don’t have 80 percent of voters saying we’re on the wrong track and not have an independent candidate." I think that's much too strong. The conditions are certainly in place for a third-party candidate, as they are whenever the president is beatable. But that doesn't mean someone will actually do it. For incumbent politicians and those who wish to win office in the future, it means burning the bridges to their current party, something that has potentially high costs. And for non-politicians...well, it's not clear how many of them could put up a Perot-type campaign. They either have to be rich enough (and willing to spend it) to buy themselves a serious presidential campaign, or else have some other way to get enough of the press to take them seriously that they can mobilize all those people needed to get on ballots and run a campaign. And there are serious costs, too -- you better have paid all your taxes properly, and better not have any skeletons in your closet.
And after all, you aren't going to win, and may well make a total fool of yourself.
Which doesn't mean we won't get a non-trivial 3rd party or independent candidate in 2012; it's just that there's really no way to predict whether anyone will do it, even if the conditions are excellent for someone to get, say, 5% to 20% of the vote.
But speculation, we'll get.