Way back in the 1976-77 school year, when I was a senior, a friend of mine was writing a paper for his political science class. I'm not sure at this point exactly what the assignment was, but he was looking for something fresh to say about the 1976 political campaign.
Without a whole lot of thinking, I came up with the "least objectionable candidate" theory.
This came from a concept discussed in the television business. People didn't have a great many choices back then in the pre-cable/dish days, and sometimes didn't seek out a particular program that filled them with enthusiasm. There weren't many that fit that description. So, they sat in front of the set and flicked the channel selector, looking for something, anything, that they could tolerate. The network boys called it "the least objectionable program" philosophy.
I said that in a relatively wide-open political year, it's often not a matter of generating enthusiasm over a wide portion of the party. Sometimes it's enough to be a good second choice, someone voters can say "yeah, I could live with him." Or these days, her.
In the case of 1976, Jimmy Carter wasn't the ideal candidate, but he was the last man standing. Scoop Jackson had some flaws mostly centered on a pro-defense platform. George Wallace, with all his baggage, wasn't going to get the nomination. Mo Udall was hilarious but not that well known nationally. Fred Harris was too far left. Birch Bayh flamed out in no time in the primaries. Frank Church and Jerry Brown came along late in the process and made some noise, but it was essentially too late.
Let's compare that to what we have now in the Republican Party. The generic Republican Presidential candidate, John Doe, beats Barack Obama, mostly because of the weak economy. However, the declared candidates don't do nearly as well.
Rick Perry has generated some enthusiasm and is obviously shrewd, but he has said more than enough silly things over the years to drag him down. Mitt Romney generates no enthusiasm among the rank and file, and his Massachusetts health care plan is too close to "Obama-care" for the liking of many. Michele Bachmann has been totally unpredictable on the campaign trail, and not in a good way. John Huntsman is a former member of the Obama Administration, which won't sell well at primary time. Ron Paul has never shown that his libertarian views can capture anything more than a niche. Newt Gingrich mixed some good philosophical concepts and thinking with some strange ideas and enough baggage to fill a jumbojet. The other announced candidates are off the radar and don't matter at the moment.
So ... who comes closest to the generic candidate? Political candidate James Carville said in a speech in Buffalo Monday night that he's heard that both Sarah Palin and Chris Christie are ready to run. It's a little tough to take Palin too seriously. Her next interesting political thought will be her first, as her constant interviews on Fox News usually show.
But Christie, now that's a different story. He certainly has created a bit of stir with his work in New Jersey, leaving no doubt who is in charge. Christie is popular with Republicans. The drawbacks are that he said he wouldn't run, not a major inconvenience, and he's only been in office for a short time.
Christie sure looks like the least objectionable candidate to me. That means he probably could see a path to the White House, at least at this time. Anyone with enough of an ego to run for office obviously would notice that, and think long and hard about it.
By the way, the paper got an A-minus. I believe the professor, one of the toughest markers in the political science deparment, wrote, "I have no quarrel with your thesis."