My money's on Rick Perry for the GOP nomination.
This is mostly instinct. Mostly my sense that I know conservatives.
He's in, as of today. His has been the best entry, thus far. Compare his announcement to Next Gingrich's (confusion), Michele Bachmann's (erratic), Mitt Romney's (boring), etc. He did it in a way that puts him in the news in the top slot next to whomever wins the Iowa straw poll and presumed front-runner Romney. He's the comparison, the next sentence. The counterpoint. The one to beat, out of nowhere. Which is a pretty good maneuver. He wins the politics in a way that reorients the game, but still seems smooth.
Which is indicative of why he'll get the nomination.
He can pull in the money and staff to run a smart campaign, unlike Bachmann, Herman Cain, etc. He'll also use his staff and listen to his staff. He'll win the politics.
At the same time, he can excite the contingencies. The Religious Right will feel glad to be used by him. The Tea Partiers will feel he's American in exactly the same inscrutable way they feel Obama is not American. They will fight for him. The money men -- the financiers and industry chiefs -- will get weak in the knees from his Texas machismo, flattered to be in his presence.
If you're the Karl Rove of this generation, I think this is what you're looking for.
(This is an ex post facto explanation. It's just my explanation for my gut feeling.)
My sense is he'll pretty much run the table now. I think he can take half of the opening set of primaries and 8 or 9 of the 14 contests on Super Tuesday, Feb. 7.
People are going to talk about his downsides, his drawbacks and liabilities. They're focusing on the wrong things, though. They misunderstand and will consistently misread what's possibly problematic for conservative voters. At least in the primary, with the conservatives, the commentators' instincts about what is important is persistently off. In the same way they always misread conservatives' star politicians. Overestimating and underestimating. Always askew. Some of the "liabilities" are logical, such as Perry's position on immigration and his inconsistencies on states rights, but that's besides the point. It's arguments, not readings of the sensibilities of conservatives. Some of the points made in talking about liabilities are exactly, 100 percent right -- but they're what should be problematic, rather than what actually is.
If you look at this and think this looks like a crazy man, like someone you wouldn't trust with nuclear weapons, that would be a pretty good sign of misunderstanding the people who make up the base of the GOP. The grandsons of Goldwater see this differently.
If Perry has a liability in the primaries, it's that he can come off as smarmy.
So, we'll see ...