In the last year, the national polls for the Republican presidential nomination have been led by many different people including the freakish and shameful pseudo-candidacy of Donald Trump. But Republican primary and caucus voters have shown much better judgment than you would think given the silly season polls of 2011. The Republican primary electorate rejected candidates who could have been credible, but who failed to put in the work to master national-level issues (Bachmann and Perry.) The Republican primary electorate also rejected the con artist candidacies of Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich (mostly.) I put Ron Paul to the side because, even if the Republicans do someday nominate a gold standard supporter who wants sharp defense cuts, but it won’t be this year, won’t be someone who thinks he wants to zero out nuclear weapons production, and military nuclear propulsion production, transportation, and testing, and it won’t be a ex-publisher of racist newsletters who can’t fully come clean.
So far the plurality of the popular vote in all but one state has gone to either Santorum or Romney. Both of these guys are really running for President. Santorum has been more loudly honest than any other candidate about the need for health care and entitlement reform. Romney has taken the time to inform himself about the issues to the point that he can argue both sides of any issue better than most of his Republican opponents can argue any side of anything. Both men have their weaknesses. Santorum has had trouble funding and staffing his campaign (to go with his lack of executive experience) and he has a habit of expressing his opinions in a maximally alienating way and there is no reason to expect that he will ever get much better. It is anybody guess what Romney really believes on any of the contested issues of the day. Neither man can be counted on to be much good when knocked off their script. But for all of their flaws, they are the best of the bunch and the Republican voters have done the best with what they have been given.
It isn’t the fault of Republican primary voters that Mitch Daniels, Bobby Jindal and Mike Pence (among others) chose not to run. It isn’t the fault of Republican primary voters that Tim Pawlenty chose to stake his campaign on a straw poll performance during the silly season. It isn’t the fault of Republican primary voters that the Huntsman campaign combined seeming contempt for the Republican electorate with a middle-class tax increase and huge tax cuts on high earners.