Constitution Daily

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4 GOP kingmakers to watch as the primaries approach

October 10, 2011 by Matt Riffe


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's announcement last week that he would not be seeking presidential office in the 2012 election sparked a new round of speculation that he  could become a presidential “kingmaker.”

Chris Christie (Wikimedia Commons photo by Walter Burns)

No, that doesn’t mean that the American Revolution has been repealed and we will be voting for a monarch in 2012. Only that Christie has the political clout to influence the choice of a Republican presidential candidate.

Every presidential election, candidates seek the support of these “kingmakers,” who can range from former presidents to talk show hosts—as in Oprah Winfrey, who provided support for a young Illinois senator running for President of the United States in 2008.

Here are four potential kingmakers to watch as the early GOP primaries draw closer:

1. Jim DeMint

A senator from South Carolina, DeMint has been dubbed the “Tea Party Senator” for his strong embrace by GOP activists. His role in the rise of the Tea Party in the 2010 midterm elections gives him kingmaking experience. And South Carolina's prominence as the first state in the South to hold a presidential primary next year adds to his influence. 

2.   Mike Huckabee

The former Arkansas governor was a candidate himself in 2008, and flirted with another campaign this time out. Huckabee can be considered a kingmaker thanks in part to his base of social conservatives, a large group of voters who impact the early primaries. His kingmaking status was enhanced by his 2008 run, which made him a household name. Huckabee was very prominent during the Ames Iowa Straw Poll last month, visiting several of the candidates.

3.  Chris Christie

Now that he has closed the door on his candidacy in 2012, Christie can be a very important kingmaker to the remaining GOP candidates. In April, the Governor dined with Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney. With news of him not running, more candidates will be knocking at his door and the list of would-be presidential dining companions will probably grow longer.

4.   Donald Trump

Despite the fact that Trump has only flirted with the idea of running for political office, he’s become a major player with the field of GOP presidential candidates. Both Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have met with the Apprentice star. Even so, it might be stretching things a bit to say that the person Trump backs “will basically lock up the Republican nomination,” as Michael Cohen, Trump’s (loyal)Executive Vice President, has predicted. 

We’re a little over a year away from the 2012 presidential election and the race for the GOP nomination is still very much wide open. But there's one thing you can count on: As the primaries winnow the field and the list of candidates gets shorter, the list of potential kingmaers will grow even longer.

Matt Riffe is a Public Programs Demonstrator at the National Constitution Center and creator of the “Hail to the Chief: Presidential Game”.

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