Alternate headline: “Percentage of Republicans in Not Romney camp declines from high 70s to low 70s.”
Seriously, though, the end may be near.
That’s the highest he’s been all month in the tracking poll. I know, I know, “national polls don’t matter.” Maybe. Maybe Romney’s uptick here is simply a function of him seeming more inevitable as Gingrich has started to slide. After all, with the notable exception of Santorum, the universe of Not Romneys is now exhausted and Santorum’s long-awaited second look may be coming too late to get him over the finish line. Not surprisingly, Mitt’s above 75 percent on InTrade right now as the likely nominee. Which is to say, maybe this national surge will melt away if Santorum pulls the upset in Iowa or even if Paul holds on and noses past Romney. Or, since Iowans aren’t completely isolated from the growing feeling of Romney’s inevitability, maybe he’ll get a few more undecideds in Des Moines on Tuesday because of it than he otherwise would have and that’ll hand him a victory, which will all but finish the primaries before they’ve started. Note his trendline in Iowa, too — that recent spike looks a lot like the spike in Gallup’s graph.
There are four ways Romney could still stumble but they’re all unlikely. One: One of the social-con candidates wins Iowa. Byron York argued this morning that that could very well happen for Santorum if voters start to abandon Bachmann and Perry at the last minute and undecideds cast a Not Romney/Not Paul vote, but no one thinks Santorum has the organization to beat Romney in a long race, especially in bluer states. Two: Paul wins Iowa and wins New Hampshire, which would expose just how weak Romney is even in his alleged strongholds. The problem there is that a sustained Paul surge would scare the hell out of most Republicans, including many in the Not Romney camp, and that would turn the race into a Paul/Not Paul contest. Once that happens, Romney’s the logical (albeit grudging) alternative in South Carolina and beyond. He himself told RCP today, flat out, “Ron Paul’s not going to be our nominee.” True enough, and if push comes to shove, he knows his detractors will side with him on that. Three: The rest of the field could finally, finally, finally start attacking Romney, which — amazingly — they really haven’t done yet. That’s because Newt, the obvious Not Romney in the moderate/technocratic mini-primary that’s been going on, has refused to run negative ads and the others have been busy with mini-primaries of their own. Paul and the winner of the social-con mini-primary will start attacking Romney after Iowa, but I don’t know how much good it will do then, especially if he wins Iowa. He’s the presumptive nominee, and therefore he should have been defined negatively through ads very early on to counter his inevitability. Instead, the opposite happened. Wonderful.
Fourth, the deus ex machina: Some prominent Republican could endorse one of Romney’s opponents in the next 48 hours. Huckabee, Palin, even Jeb — any one of them could force an eleventh-hour second look at someone in the field. But … who? Again, Santorum probably can’t win a marathon with Romney so that endorsement would be wasted. Newt might be able to, but would any big-name GOPer want to bet on Gingrich reversing his Iowa slide in time to win? Perry’s been inching up verrrry slowly, but his problem is that none of the three I’ve named seem to like him much. Palin’s taken veiled shots at his tendencies towards crony capitalism, the Bush camp is famously chilly towards him, and we all know about the Huckabee grudge after Perry endorsed Giuliani four years ago. So how does Mitt end up being stopped? Tell me, please.