All right, I confess … this race doesn’t really have any fronrunners, does it?  Let’s define this more carefully.  Of the Republican candidates who get the most serious consideration for a presidential bid at this stage of the race, who is the only one not to have supported (or at least flirted with) cap and trade?  According to Dave Weigel, it’s Mitch Daniels:

One of the conventional wisdoms of presidential campaigns is that governors are better candidates than senators; they’ve got executive experience! The downside of that experience, when it comes to an issue like this, is that governing is hard; compromises have to be made; ideas that sound good, and that advisers recommend, get tried out even if a conservative think tank says they’re rotten. Even Sarah Palin created a subcabinet study group on carbon that we’re going to hear about if she runs. (At the time, like most subcabinet study groups, it generated no news.) Is GOP dream candidate Chris Christie safe? Nope; New Jersey’s part of RGGI, too, and only now is he talking about pulling out of it.

Gingrich’s flirtation with cap and trade (and, yes, everyone on this list can say he supported a different version that wouldn’t have Killed American Jobs, like the version that actually passed the House) is probably best explained as one of the many ideas he has found interesting for a while, then moved on from. A cynic might ask if he stopped talking about it because his organizations started taking in huge donations from the energy industry. But the change of heart put him in line with the new conservative orthodoxy on this issue.

Want to guess which potential Republican candidate looks ready to pass the pH test on this? Mitch Daniels. In early 2009, when the issue was ill-defined, he was already arguing against it. That’s a nice arrow in the quiver the next time he’s asked about the “social truce.”

Actually, I’d put Palin in the same category as Daniels, or at least close to it, on the basis Dave uses here.  Asking for a subcommittee study is as significant as a “listening tour” in terms of announced policy.  Palin will have more trouble on this issue dealing with her partnership for C&T advocate John McCain in the 2008 election than she will in explaining a request for a “study group” on carbon.  Like most of the other candidates mentioned by Dave, Palin has had to distance herself from a position, but it’s easier to distance herself from her former running mate’s position on cap-and-trade than distancing one’s self from one’s own positions.

Daniels will most assuredly not have that problem.  While other Republicans flirted with C&T, Daniels forcefully campaigned against it as “imperialism” of the more populous states, specifically in response to the Waxman-Markey bill that ended up dying in the 111th Session of Congress (which I noted two years ago):

Quite simply, it looks like imperialism. This bill would impose enormous taxes and restrictions on free commerce by wealthy but faltering powers — California, Massachusetts and New York — seeking to exploit politically weaker colonies in order to prop up their own decaying economies. Because proceeds from their new taxes, levied mostly on us, will be spent on their social programs while negatively impacting our economy, we Hoosiers decline to submit meekly.

The Waxman-Markey legislation would more than double electricity bills in Indiana. Years of reform in taxation, regulation and infrastructure-building would be largely erased at a stroke. In recent years, Indiana has led the nation in capturing international investment, repatriating dollars spent on foreign goods or oil and employing Americans with them. Waxman-Markey seems designed to reverse that flow. “Closed: Gone to China” signs would cover Indiana’s stores and factories.

Our state’s share of national income has been slipping for decades, but it is offset in part by living costs some 8% lower than the national average. Doubled utility bills for low-income Hoosiers would be an especially cruel consequence of the Waxman bill. Forgive us for not being impressed at danglings of welfare-like repayments to some of those still employed, with some fraction of the dollars extracted from our state.

And for what? No honest estimate pretends to suggest that a U.S. cap-and-trade regime will move the world’s thermometer by so much as a tenth of a degree a half century from now. My fellow citizens are being ordered to accept impoverishment for a policy that won’t save a single polar bear.

Tim Pawlenty has done a good job in admitting fault and changing his position.  Other candidates have been less forthcoming on their C&T flirtations.  If the 2012 primary is fought on the basis of economics and government control, Daniels can legitimately claim to have been far ahead of the curve in the Republican field.  But first, of course, Daniels has to decide whether he’s running at all.  If not, Republicans will have to choose among candidates who offer the best explanation for seeing the light.

Update: By 2009, Palin was actively opposing cap and trade, as she did in this 2009 Washington Post essay.