Mark Halperin’s answers this week in TIME.
When will the Republican field finally be set?
It is close to complete now, but GOP donors, activists, governors and members of Congress (plus the press) are pining for someone — anyone! — else. Sarah Palin continues to flirt with a run (creating media mayhem whenever she behaves like a candidate), but she may not make up her mind until after Labor Day. Of course, predicting what Palin will do is as futile as anticipating Lady Gaga’s next costume change.
Who else is most likely to get in, and why?
The conservative governor of Texas, Rick Perry, has gone from a no to a maybe, but his rightward leanings make George W. Bush look like Al Franken, so he’ll have little claim on the center, where the battle against President Obama will be waged. Still, Perry is a ferocious campaigner and fundraiser — if he remains dissatisfied with the GOP field, he just might go for it. Rudy Giuliani is taking a serious look at a run, based on the same center-right-man-of-action rationale he used in his tragicomic effort four years ago. Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie both think they are stronger candidates and would be better Presidents than the current hopefuls, but neither is inclined to jump in now.
Who benefits from the chaos?
Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. All the delays and distractions make it harder for Romney’s would-be rivals to catch him in the GOP race. Obama is helped too, because anything that adds to the GOP carnival elevates the President. In some of the most basic areas of politics — opposition research, staff selection, field operations, surrogates — the Obama-Biden re-election campaign has already built up a huge lead. The longer it takes the Republicans to find a nominee, the wider that gap will grow.