AVOIDING ‘CARELESS, DELUSIONAL, EGOMANIACAL, SPOTLIGHT-CHASING’ CANDIDATES…. George Will may struggle badly with transportation policy, but his grasp of the Republicans’ 2012 field is actually quite sound.

In his column today, the conservative argues that there’s “reason for pessimism” when it comes to “Republicans’ thinking about their 2012 presidential prospects,” in part because of the “vibrations of weirdness emanating from people associated with the party.”

Will notes, for example, Huckabee’s bizarre tantrums this week, which seem to have done significant damage to the former governor’s reputation, as well as Newt Gingrich’s strange antics. The column concludes:

Let us not mince words. There are at most five plausible Republican presidents on the horizon – Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Utah governor and departing ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, former Massachusetts governor Romney and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.

So the Republican winnowing process is far advanced. But the nominee may emerge much diminished by involvement in a process cluttered with careless, delusional, egomaniacal, spotlight-chasing candidates to whom the sensible American majority would never entrust a lemonade stand, much less nuclear weapons.

The contingent of untrustworthy “clutter” would apparently include the likes of Huckabee and Gingrich, and by implication, Palin, Santorum, Bachmann, Ron Paul, Buddy Roemer, Gary Johnson, and that guy who ran a pizza company.

That strikes me as a fair assessment.

That said, looking at the field of five candidates Will characterizes as “plausible,” it also seems fair to me to say that this group doesn’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of Democrats.

I was looking for something else the other day when I stumbled across this National Review piece from Byron York, written about a year before the 2008 election.

I went to Barack Obama’s rally [in Columbia, South Carolina] on Sunday night, with a Republican friend who had never seen the Illinois senator in action before. Watching the crowd of more than 3,000 fill up the convention center, watching the people send up waves of energy to Obama, and watching him play off that energy in a speech that was one of the best political performances anyone has seen this year, my Republican friend said, simply, “Oh, s–t.” He recalled the scene from Jaws, in which the small seaside town’s sheriff realizes how big the shark he’s tracking truly is, and says, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” What my friend didn’t have to say was that he was deeply worried that Republicans just don’t have a bigger boat. […]

Watching Obama perform at the convention center Sunday night, it’s easy to understand why Bill Clinton is walking around with a look of red-faced frustration these days. Obama represents a mortal threat to his wife’s candidacy, and, given the identity politics that prevail in the Democratic Party, it will be hard to cut his legs out from under him without appearing racist. But there’s no doubt that some Republicans are hoping the Clintons will succeed. Running against the man on stage at the convention center would be a hard, hard campaign, requiring a very big boat.

We know, of course, how that worked out. But looking ahead, and eyeing Will’s plausible five, I don’t think there’s a single GOP candidate out there that would prompt Democrats to say, “Oh, s–t.”

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.