How worried should GOP be about Obama in 2012? 

Republicans’ biggest problem in the 2012 presidential election isn’t President Barack Obama: it’s time.

We don’t know where Obama’s poll numbers will be in 2012, but we do know that time is being quixotic: It has given the GOP an important election with a collection of candidates one can call underwhelming — and a huge crop of potential stars, turned up by the 2009 and 2010 elections, on the horizon and just out of reach.

In themselves, the newcomers solve all the party’s old problems.

They belong to the moment; shaped by the crash, by the debt and by Obama’s expansion of government; they bridge the tea party and the establishment; they are also young; they are female, Latino and Indian, from big states and swing states. They can rebrand, and expand, the party.

What they are not is ready: Even by the standards set by Obama, running for president after two months in office may not be enough.

By contrast, those who are ready (if not tanned and rested) aren’t anything else, and are so outclassed by the class just behind them it has ceased to be funny. They don’t fit the time — on the other hand, the time of the comers may not have arrived.

So what should Republicans do?

First, they should question how big this election may be. The fact is Obama has been stopped already, and the things they feared earlier have not come to pass: He isn’t, and will not be, President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

He moved the country to the right, not the left, and helped to revive the Republican Party. Cap-and-trade and card check were never enacted, and his health care reform act is coming apart.

He is on a short leash already, and if he makes it through 2012, it will be even shorter.

People like Obama more than his ideas, and his chances will only get better as people realize he will never be able to pass his agenda. If re-elected, he may pass six of eight years politically neutralized. An Obama safely under House (and probably Senate) arrest might be just what the public would want.

Then, after two terms of a left-wing but neutralized Obama, the voters might want the next big Republican president. And here we confront the real crux of the problem: A so-so Republican who knocks off a weakened Obama may also weaken the next great conservative star.

If a Republican wins, no one from the class of 2009-10 can run until 2020, and if a Republican wins in 2016, it gives him an almost insurmountable burden: Only three times in the 20th century has a party extended its run for three terms.

A President Tim Pawlenty or Mitch Daniels may come at the cost of a President Marco Rubio, who might have united the party, excited the young and vastly expanded the reach of the party. Would it be worth it? Your call.

Strategic thinking too far in the future can often be folly, the victim of many unknowns.

Hillary Clinton schemed for eight years and prepared for everything except for Obama. Many Democrats passed on 1992, as there would be plenty of time to run later. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., edged ahead of Obama and was preparing his victory lap on the surge when the fiscal implosion put paid to all that.

That said, Republicans facing 2012 may have two choices: Hang Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., by his feet out the window until he comes to terms with his destiny; or pick a common-sense nominee who can give Obama a run for his money — and quietly hope he will lose.

Examiner columnist Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of “Great Expectations; The Troubled Lives of Political Families.”

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