The fact that Republican primary voters are being presented with an unbelievably weak field is nothing that hasn't already been said. Every conservative I've talked to, outside a few moderates, is unhappy with their selection. And why wouldn't they? Giuliani is a thrice-married social liberal who dressed in drag, McCain is a party heretic, Thompson is an empty suit, and "multiple choice" Mitt--aside from being a Mormon--has twisted and turned on a few too many issues to really have gained the trust of the base.
So I got to thinking: Who's on the Republican bench that could get the party excited? Some of them might not have a prayer of running, for any number of reasons (one of which is the probability that the Republicans will get thrashed in 2008). But who are some folks who could genuinely get the party excited, in terms of both policy and electability?
Here's a list of five people I think could fit the bill, either as saviors for this cycle, or more likely, as rising stars who will jump in the next time around.
1) Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN): This was the only name that sprung immediately to mind. He's a mid-westerner, so he can run well in Rust Belt states like Ohio. Lugar ran for President in 1996, though he didn't make much headway--still, you have to think he looks significantly better to the base now than he did back then. He's also well-respected by people on both sides of the aisle, known to be substantive on policy issues, and considered a deacon on foreign policy specifically in the Senate. The only question is whether or not he's been too wobbly on Iraq for Republican voter's tastes. However, he's probably got the highest national profile of any of the bunch, right now.
2) Gov. Charlie Crist (R-FL): Like Jeb Bush but without the "Bush"! Crist easily won the governorship of Florida in a bad Republican year. Since then, he's displayed a surprising maverick streak, but done so while maintaining his connections with the base. His surprise move to work for felon re-enfranchisement could help him gather some support in the Black community--something the GOP has been desperate for for years. And while Attorney General of Florida, he largely stayed out of the Schiavo mess, which might still raise some hackles on the far right, but at this point probably will be a net boon.
3) Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA): He's a conservative hell-raiser, but that isn't necessarily a stroke against him nowadays. He knocked off then-Senator Max Cleland (D-GA) in 2002, an upset stoked by one of the nastiest campaigns in recent memory. If Republicans want to come off the ropes swinging, this could be their guy.
4) Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN): For whatever reason, I still feel like the two-term governor from Minnesota requires more seasoning before he hits the national stage. Nonetheless, he was probably the most vulnerable incumbent GOP governor in 2006 to keep his seat, and he did so against a strong candidate with flying in colors in a state that is trending blue. He's been floated for a VP slot this cycle, but regardless of whether he gets it, I already feel like his hat is in the ring for 2012.
5) Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN): He's run for President before, twice, albeit not very successfully. Those two campaigns seemed to turn him off on politics, but he was able to be persuaded to run for Senate in 2002, and since then has steadily risen in the GOP party hierarchy. He's solid, he's loyal, and he's paid his dues. It wouldn't drive anybody wild, but he'd be someone the party could unite behind.