I’ve got a crazy hunch that if Romney wins the nomination and the choice is between him and Captain Stimulus in the general, they’ll find a way to get past it on a lesser-of-two-evils basis. In the primaries, though? Even Romney fan David Frum is starting to have his doubts:

Everything that can be said of Romney and Bush could have been said of Hillary Clinton. Heir apparent? Check. Support of biggest donors? Check. National-campaign experience? Check. Opponents obscure (Barack Obama) or extreme (John Edwards)? Few visible roadblocks ahead?

Check, check, and check…

The sort of person who writes a big check to the GOP every cycle may see in Romney a competent CEO for the United States. But to the people who will spend hours in an Iowa caucus room, Romney also has two holes below his water line: TARP and healthcare reform…

The people who support him are the same people who regard Sarah Palin as utterly unacceptable, both as a candidate and as a president. If Romney does not win early, fear of Palin will send them hunting fast for another alternative. There’s a long list available of such alternatives and there’s one name that does not get mentioned nearly often enough: Jeb Bush.

Somehow, I just can’t see George Bush’s brother as a winner against Barack “blame Bush” Obama in the general. Frum’s point about Romney’s supporters being less pro-Mitt than anti-Palin is a shrewd one, though (but then, you already knew that). This is Pawlenty’s great hope — that somehow Romney stumbles early, underperforming against either him, Daniels, Thune, or all three, and that panicky anti-Palin centrists then scramble to unite behind another solid, electable, yet bland candidate as an alternative. Pawlenty’s the one who’s furthest along organizationally, so he stands to benefit. Or does he?

Tim Pawlenty leads the field in his home state of Minnesota but his performance is surprisingly weak. He gets 19% with Palin right on his heels at 18%, Huckabee at 14%, and Gingrich and Romney each getting 11%. These numbers are reflective of the overall trouble we found for Pawlenty at home in our final preelection poll of the state- his approval rating was under water and voters overwhelmingly said they didn’t think he should run for President. Partially because of Pawlenty’s declining popularity Democrats seem to have picked up the Governor’s office there in an otherwise awful year for the party. Palin actually leads Pawlenty 20-18 with conservatives but the Governor leads overall thanks to a 27-10 advantage with moderates. It is no coincidence that Romney is in the basement in this state- we’ve found several places now that where Pawlenty is unusually strong the victim seems to be Romney because of a greater split in the vote among GOP centrists.

That wasn’t the only poll today where Palin did well, but I’ll save that for another post. The flip side here, and to Frum’s argument, is that if Romney does well early in New Hampshire and Nevada, establishment Republicans will put tremendous pressure on Pawlenty to get out so that centrists will unite behind Mitt against the tea party candidates or candidates. In the meantime, there’s only one thing for T-Paw to do — attack RomneyCare by proxy to peel off centrists who, like the Tea Party Express chair, aren’t real thrilled with Mitt either. Think it’ll work, especially if/when Thune and Daniels are also in the mix as alternatives to Romney? I’m skeptical.