GOP makes Obama look better every day

What a week that was in the Republican presidential race.

The developing contest featured three dramatic exits, two by choice and one by implosion, the latter encompassing the shocking revelation that Newt Gingrich is a liberal by contemporary standards because he only wants to kill Medicare slowly.

The race also bore witness to surely the most tepid "surge" in the long history of that once-meaningful word. That would be Mitt Romney's improvement to 20 percent in an oddly ballyhooed Suffix University poll. That, the pollster said, put Romney in a supposedly clear front-runner's position, a full 8 points ahead of someone not running and not serious.

That would be Sarah Palin, so discredited politically that she is a fourth of the reason Barack Obama is president. The other approximately equal fourths are Obama himself, a collapsed economy and John McCain.

Now that we begin to recall Republican presidential politics of 2008, there seems little chance, actually, that the unfolding Republican presidential politics could be any weirder than that. But it is plenty weird enough.

Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee, publicity-stunting television personalities who never were running, announced last week that they were dropping out of what they were never in.

Then Gingrich didn't drop out, but crashed, demonstrating remarkable tone-deafness to the latest incarnation of raging conservatism. He said that Rep. Paul Ryan's Medicare privatization plan, beloved by the tea party, was too radical and amounted to right-wing social engineering. Gingrich tried to recover by blaming the liberal media for a trick question.

People were checking the record book to see if any previously announced presidential candidacy had collapsed inside a week that way. Even Gingrich's friends were saying he needed to "go dark," retool and come back with a new campaign start as if the first one had been but a dream.

So, with Trump and Huckabee out and Gingrich in the ditch, Suffolk University did its poll and pronounced Romney skyrocketing all the way to that 20 percent showing and a 12-point lead.

Romney is a nice-looking, competent and rich fellow whose manner seems forced and who excites approximately nobody.

He is laden with this inconvenience: As a moderate Republican governor of Massachusetts, before he put on more conservative (and transparent) clothing for the presidential endeavor, he pushed through a health insurance reform much like Obama's, including an individual mandate to buy insurance.

Cleverly, Obama went to Massachusetts last week and publicly praised Romney for plowing ground on health reform. Or perhaps it wasn't clever. Why try to harm Romney now in Republican primary season when he would provide such an ideal general election opponent?

Romney's is the kind of logical if nondescript candidacy Republicans could semi-embrace only if they had to, as they well might.

By week's end, Politico was quoting unidentified Republican "elites," meaning out-of-touch insiders despised by tea partyists, as longing for the entry into the race of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Even Laura Bush called Daniels' wife, who doesn't much like the idea of his running.

What is it that is supposedly so all-fired great about Daniels? Well, he ran the federal Office of Management and Budget for George W. Bush when they compiled record deficits. He gave a speech a year or so ago saying Republicans ought to ride hard on economic issues and de-emphasize socio-religious ones, which ought to put him in good stead with his party's church-lady base.

A shorter version of all the above: It's been a good three weeks for Obama. First he slays bin Laden, then the Republicans slay themselves.

John Brummett is an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock and author of "High Wire," a book about Bill Clinton's first year as president. His email address is jbrummett@