Republican presidential candidates held an Obama-bashing session in New Hampshire last night, but their rhetoric cannot conceal an obvious fact: the Republican Party is content with trying to take back the Senate in 2012 and does not see the presidential race as its top priority. Consider the field. Republican Presidents over the past fifty years have been from large electoral states, yet none of the 2012 candidates meets this requirement. Mitt Romney? He couldn’t beat McCain in 2008 and has no support among the grassroots. Tim Pawlenty? He also comes from the GOP’s non-activist wing. Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann? Neither has a chance to become President. I could go on but the point is obvious: having exposed his unwillingness to fight for progressive goals, Republicans do not fear an Obama second term. The GOP has made great gains simply controlling the House, and feel they can almost completely dominate Obama by winning the Senate. The Party can then unify behind a consensus candidate in 2016 to win the White House.

Having made huge profits from the competitive Democratic primaries in 2008, the national media is desperate for a repeat among Republican aspirants in 2012. But no matter how much it tries to create momentum for former Obama Administration official Jon Huntsman or unknown African-American Herman Cain, and gives 24-7 coverage to all things Palin, the media cannot convince Republican leaders that the 2012 presidential race is an essential struggle.

Last night’s presidential debate was akin to actors auditioning for a stand-in role. Neither Karl Rove nor any other Republican Party insiders believe that Romney or any other possible candidate can defeat Obama in 2012, so they are going through the motions and prioritizing winning the Senate and keeping the House.

No Big State Republicans

Think about the successful Republican candidates since 1960: Richard Nixon had two terms as Vice-President and came from the heavy electoral vote state of California. Ronald Reagan was California’s two-term governor, and the Bushes came from Texas, also rich in electoral votes.

There has not been a winning Republican president from a small state since Calvin Coolidge of Massachusetts, and he only took office because Warren Harding, from the then big electoral state of Ohio, died.

Romney is from Massachusetts and Utah, Huntsman is from Utah, Pawlenty and Bachmann are from Minnesota, and Palin is from Alaska.

These are not the states that produce Republican Presidents.

That’s why the 2016 Republican nominee, when the GOP will go all-out for victory, will be from Florida (Bush or Rubio), New Jersey (Christie), or another large state.

Republicans Do Not Fear Obama

When we recall the right-wing hysteria that accompanied Obama’s election, it reminds us that Republicans once joined Democrats in believing that the new president would aggressively fight for his progressive platform of change.

But those days are long, long passed.

Republicans quickly learned that they could slow the President’s agenda by simply engaging in make believe negotiations, or even by flatly saying no. The Supreme Court remains firmly in Republican hands, Obama refuses to publicly fight for progressive appellate nominees (or for progressive appointments to any body), and, protestations notwithstanding, Republicans have nothing to fear from an Obama second term.

After starting the year apologizing to Wall Street, Obama has mounted “an aggressive push to win back the allegiance of one of his most vital sources of campaign cash.” The President has so completely backed off from environmental conservation that last week he was publicly rebuked by former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, whose concerns about Obama’s tepid approach are shared by many environmentalists.

Remember when Democrats attacked Republican Presidents for funding a multi-billion dollar drug war whose primary impact was the mass imprisonment of low-income African-Americans (incarcerated at ten times the rate of whites)? Well, after such left-wing radicals as President Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz and former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker issued a global report last week declaring that “the global war on drugs has failed,” the Obama Administration – which its defenders argue is not to blame for cutting money to fund housing, schools and health care – refused to accept the panel’s conclusions.

As the New York Times’ Charles Blow put it, the Obama Administration response to the report “completely sidestepped the human, economic and societal toll of the mass incarceration of millions of Americans, many for simple possession.”

Not to belabor the point but it’s also worth noting that opponents of comprehensive immigration reform are in a much stronger position than when Obama took office. Anti-legalization groups have little to fear from Obama’s second term.

Is Obama preventing Republicans from enacting far worse policies? Absolutely. Has he done many good things that Republicans opposed? No question.

But the weak Republican field is not because they face a hugely popular President who cannot be defeated. Rather, Republicans feel they can achieve more by controlling both houses of Congress, and still have a Democratic President to blame for the economic mess the GOP created and prolonged, and for everything else that goes wrong.