This has been a really crazy race. With one alternative to Mitt Romney rising and falling after another, this is definitely unlike any other series of primaries ever. Still, conventional wisdom has remained consistent in two parts:
1.) Mitt Romney remains the favorite of party leaders and is by far the one with the best chance of beating President Barack Obama. Therefore, he’ll definitely get the nomination.
2.) Mitt Romney is disliked by conservatives who believe they lost in 2008 because John McCain was too moderate. Plus, the leaders proved in 2010 that their control of the primaries is not what it used to be. Therefore, Romney definitely won’t get the nomination.
One boom/bust after another.
Let’s take a look at all the short lived threats to Romney.
Donald Trump: actually, this campaign was a sham, a publicity stunt designed to promote episodes of Celebrity Apprentice that he was in. Still, it put Trump in the lead for a little while, though his numbers were starting to fall at the time that he announced that the put-on was at an end.
Herman Cain: he wasn’t really leading, but his debate performances caused him to get significant support that caused the press to take notice. He didn’t seem able to build on that support in between debates, though.
Michelle Bachmann: same with her. She got basically upstaged by Rick Perry.
Rick Perry: for awhile, it looked like we had ourselves an early favorite. Perry had a commanding lead in the polls and was taken seriously by most as a threat to both Romney and Obama, despite having said some things that were bound to hurt in a general election (suggesting that Texas might secede from the USA and calling Social Security a “ponzi scheme” spring to mind). Then came his embarrassing episodes.
Herman Cain (again): yes, Republicans wanted someone other than Romney so bad that they gave Cain, who had every indication of merely being a joke candidate (he had almost no campaign infrastructure), another go. This time, Cain was actually ahead on a consistent basis. A few sexual harassment scandals occurred. The right argued that this was just a hit job from Democrats who feared the effect a black nominee would have on the black vote and the primary voters seemed to be buying it. But Cain dropped the ball in an interview concerning Libya. That’s what brought him down. A revelation of past adultery was soon to occur, prompting Cain to leave the election.
Newt Gingrich: he wasn’t supposed to have a chance, and was assumed by most to just be in the primaries to sell books and DVDs (his staffers had even quit earlier, presumably because they concluded that this wasn’t a real campaign), but started to hit double-digits last summer through some notable moments in debates (in fact, debates seem to have been the trigger for most significant changes in the primary hierarchy). When the “Cain Train” crashed, Newt was the obvious benefactor. However, some ancient history came up, most notably that Newt made money working for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Thus, he became yet another dead end.
Ron Paul: not exactly a surge, but it’s worth noting that he was the Iowa frontrunner for awhile. But he’s of a bygone era of anti-war conservatives. That means that there’s a clear limit to his support. But kudos to Paul for, like everyone else except Jon Huntsman, being king for a day.
Rick Santorum: the last non-presidential contest Rick Santorum ran in was a landslide defeat in his home state. But with all the other tires in the trunk having flat-lined, Republicans were ready to turn to Santorum. And so it was that the first state, the Iowa caucus, was won by Santorum. Well, probably. There seems to be some muddyness in the caucus system that had Romney ahead before that projection was retracted weeks later.
Newt Gingrich (again): Santorum’s luck ran out, and Newt got his old spot back thanks to racially tinged performances in the South Carolina debates and a rout in the state. But his debating skills are all flash and no substance. He got no opportunity to showcase the former in the Florida debates, so he lost Florida big time.
Rick Santorum (again): Romney seemed to have the nomination won after two big wins in Florida and Nevada. But on the day Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado were all to vote, Santorum won all three. Currently, we are in the second rise of Rick Santorum. He now holds a commanding lead in national polling over Romney ( Newt and Paul are in a distant third and fourth place). Polls Even showed Santorum with a likelyhood of winning Romney’s native Michigan, though those polls seem to be tightening. There is also a recent poll indicating that Arizona will be close, but is it an outlier?
What’s going to happen?
This is a question I’ve been pondering for half a year. This race has been so volatile. Will Romney emerge the winner, as most expect? Will Santorum somehow take it all the way to the bank? Can Newt manage a third revival? Or will there be a brokered convention, meaning even more unpredictability? Who knows? I do know one thing. The unwritten rule of these primaries is that you should expect the unexpected.
The one thing I can be reasonably sure of is that Obama is benefitting from this. Not only are the alternatives to Romney unelectable, Romney himself has seen his favorability numbers tank.