With recent polling in Iowa showing that just about any of the major candidates, even Ron Paul, could realistically finish #1 or #4, I thought I'd post my ranking of the GOP candidates:
1. Newt Gingrich - All the negative press really has only proven one thing, that the establishment doesn't like him and will do anything to stop him. Even Andrew McCarthy, writing in the National Review, eviscerates that publication for its attack on Newt. Is Newt 100% conservative, nope. But is he a Reagan Conservative with a long history of achievement (balanced budgets and entitlement reform)? You betcha. He has a higher lifetime American Conservative Union rating (90) than Rick Santorum (88) and I don't remember anyone accusing Rick Santorum of being anything but conservative (because that person would be laughed out of the room). He is also one of the few candidates that can communicate effectively and possibly actually convince some people to come to the side of liberty. You can read my full endorsement here.
2. Rick Santorum - I like Rick Santorum. He is very pro-Israel and pro-growth, a combination I love, of course. While he does have some blemishes on his record (e.g. steel tariffs), I'm pretty sure that I will be very happy under a Santorum Presidency. That said, I've never been sure about his likability. But as that is purely cosmetic, it can likely be fixed. If Newt's run does implode, he is the one I would most likely want to see debating Obama in 2012. Unfortunately, he seems to have put all of his eggs in the Iowa basket so if he doesn't finish at least #3 there, I just don't see how he continues.
3. Rick Perry - If Rick Perry had about 20 IQ points more, I'm pretty sure he would be my #1 candidate. He has a relatively strong record as Governor of Texas and I think administrative experience is very important. However, unlike Newt or Santorum, he is an awful, gaffe prone speaker. Honestly, I'm not looking forward to having to defend all the gaffe's that he is liable to have if he is the nominee/President. Also, I'm not sure if having someone that is so vehemently anti-evolution is such a great poster child for the GOP. I also have problems with evolution but when you talk about it like he does, you just turn off lots of independents. And it's not like you can do anything about it as President.
4. Michelle Bachmann - If only she were a Governor. But she isn't, also she is a politician who has never actually accomplished anything while in office. Sure, she has a 100% ACU rating but that has meant she hasn't worked on any bi-partisan legislation or got anything through (kind of like Ron Paul). I'm just not sure if she is Presidential material yet. Also, she has a tendency to want to destroy her opponents, even Republicans (like Pawlenty and Newt) and play loose with the facts to make rhetorical points.
5. Jon Huntsman - I'm honestly not sure what to make of Jon Huntsman. Great record as Governor on taxes, horrible record on spending. He probably will do great things for the economy but not so great things for our foreign policy (though I did enjoy his talk with Newt on the subject).
6. Ron Paul - I know, for someone calling himself "libertarian neocon" I really put Ron Paul far down on the list. Part of it is the fact that he has his head completely in the sand on Iran and radical Islam. He also doesn't seem to mind the company of some of the kooks who often are part of the Libertarian movement, like truthers and anti-semites (I have a feeling he is anti-semitic himself). I doubt he will win Iowa as he would have to depend on Democrats & Independents switching their affiliation (Iowa is a closed caucus) as well as young people voting. It's easy to say you are going to switch affiliations or go out in the freezing cold for a few hours when someone asks you on the phone. Reality is different.
N/A. Mitt Romney - This guy would be a disaster for the GOP. If nominated he will do what Obama only dreamed of doing, destroy the Tea Party. What's the point in fighting so hard and being so involved if the GOP still gives you a liberal Republican like Mitt Romney? Also, his record in Massachusetts is just so horrible between Romneycare, the tax increases, minimum wage hikes, judicial appointments and gun control. As I mentioned before, I will not be voting for him if he is the nominee. As Jim Robinson at Free Republic said so eloquently, No Romney, No Way!
So we'll see what happens on January 3rd. I think more important than the winner is who will drop out soon after. Santorum is probably the one most likely to drop out if he doesn't do well since he is so totally focused on Iowa. Bachmann might have to drop out as well (though she might be bullheaded enough to stay in no matter how poorly she does). Less conservatives in the race will help focus conservatives on fewer candidates and will help oppose the Romney machine, which has brainwashed much of the right wing punditocracy.