A guest slot by Tim Trevan (TimT)
Pundits both sides of the Atlantic gave Romney the GOP nomination two weeks ago. PBâ€™s own survey had close to 90% saying it was his, with most saying he would win both Iowa and New Hampshire in addition. At the time, I railed against such implied certainty, saying that Paul would win Iowa, Romney New Hampshire and Newt the nomination.
I did so not because I was sure that would be the case (clearly, I was wrong on Iowa!), but because the â€˜coronationâ€™ by conventional wisdom so early was so clearly wrong, when 70% of the party was still voting â€˜not Romneyâ€™ and he had yet to prove himself in the South.
Romney must still be considered the frontrunner to win the nod, but with no real degree of certainty now. Latest polls have him trailing Newt in Florida by a statistically significant amount. But with so many absentee ballots already in, Newt has to win polling day by a big margin to offset the votes Romney already has in the bank.
As one PBer put it the other day (sorry for not being able to recall who), the GOP now has one candidate for each of its constituent parts. These are (with my estimate of the proportion of the party they comprise and the candidate closest to their political philosophy);
Religious Right: 20%-, Santorum
Libertarians: 10+%, Paul
Moderates and Establishment: 30%-, Romney
Tea Party: 40%, Gingrich.
This cycle, the energy (anger) is coming from the Tea Party and Libertarians, and the money from the Establishment.
None of the remaining four candidates has any incentive to drop out. Paul and Santorum have shoestring operations. Paulâ€™s objective is not to win but to have his views heard. Santorumâ€™s is the same, save that he can take over Gingrichâ€™s spot if the latter self-immolates once again.
Thus, if Newt does not self-destruct, there are two logical scenarios â€“ no candidate crosses the finishing line in the delegate count before the convention or Evangelicals switch from Santorum to Gingrich as the un-Romney closest to their political outlook most likely to beat Romney, in which case Gingrich takes it by a country mile. The latest Florida polls indicate that the latter scenario may already be panning out.