Conservative media fail as talent scouts

William Kristol
The Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol leads a discussion at the National Press Club on Oct. 3, 2011 in Washington, DC.

It didn’t start with the scandals that have disgraced New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. Democratic victories in 2008 and 2012 have left the GOP scrambling to find a contender for the next presidential election, but some of the predictions offered by the right's most prominent commentators suggest the crystal ball is broken.

Christie is currently facing an investigation into whether lane closures at the George Washington Bridge were politically motivated and allegations that top officials in his administration threatened to hold Sandy relief funds hostage unless the mayor of Hoboken approved a development deal. McDonnell was indicted Tuesday with his wife on corruption charges. Conservative pundits have made some disastrous bets on who should represent the future of the Republican Party.

Where did they go wrong? Start with Christie and McDonnell. After they both won their races decisively in 2009, Charles Krauthammer argued in the Washington Post that their victories in states that had voted for President Obama in 2008 proved that shifting national demographics posed no danger to the GOP. 

Krauthammer also said after Christie's landslide reelection, "If you had to put your money in Vegas, the shortest odds would be on Christie winning the nomination" in 2016. He wasn't the only one ready to annoint Christie as the party's next presidential candidate. On election night 2013, the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol said on CNN that Christie "will be a force to be reckoned with nationally." It wasn't the first time --he touted Christie as the answer to the GOP's problems during the 2011 primary debates. 

McDonnell was Christie’s predecessor as head of the Republican Governor’s Association, and both Christie and McDonnell were on the list of possible vice presidential candidates in 2012. They lost out to Paul Ryan, one of the few GOP rising stars to avoid a flame-out, possibly because he's thrown his energy back into shaping policy in the House. 

While it's not yet clear exactly how far from grace Christie and McDonnell will fall, there is one Republican superstar who arrived on a wave of hype and immediately collapsed: Sarah Palin. Kristol can take the credit (or blame). The Weekly Standard ran a glowing profile of "the most popular governor" in 2007, and Kristol spent months leading up to her announcement as John McCain's VP pick praising her as "fantastic," and a "genuine reformer." 

Even as recently as Fall 2013, Kristol was conjuring great things for Palin’s future. Kristol said during an appearance on ABC's This Week in August that the current Fox News contributor “still has a great political touch” and could “rehabilitate her political career with a run for U.S. Senate in 2014."  Kristol backtracked on those statements two days later, but he refused to give up his dream of a Palin political upset. “It would fun to have her in the Senate in January 2015,” he said on Morning Joe.

There are other, more short-lived love affairs between the conservative media and their next would-be savior. Kristol suggested that Paul Ryan and Florida Senator Marco Rubio could be the future of the GOP back in 2011; George Will backed Rubio in 2010 and said on election night 2012 that Rubio could be "a man who might have a way to broaden the demographic appeal of this party." The Florida lawmaker's flustered response speech to the 2013 State of the Union and his muddled position on immigration reform have erased much of his appeal for conservative pundits.

Despite the high profile embarrassments of Palin, Christie, McDonnell, and others, not every Great Conservative Hope has gone bust. Christie may have represented the GOP's most realistic chance to take the White House, but there are other Republican Governors who have hung onto power and esteem. Wisconsin's Scott Walker perfected the take no prisoners anti-union approach George Will praised Christie for, and Ryan is angling to become chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which could give him more power than a presidential bid.

Without anyone to label the presumptive favorite, what will conservative "thought leaders" do? Whose name will be spoken in reverent tones? Some Republican is bound to emerge from the 2014 elections, but whoever it is might not want the endorsement.