So let us consider these three Romney problems in light of the historical GOP pattern. In 2008, John McCain was dogged by his unpopular positions–he supported tackling global warming and comprehensive immigration reform. But he still won. (And this time around, Romney actually has lots of company on health care: Both Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich have, in the past, voiced support for the individual mandate.) Many GOP stalwarts and just about all of the extra-party talk radio universe were also against McCain in 2008, since they considered him an elite, closeted liberal. And yet, he still got more votes.

The big difference between Romney and McCain is that McCain had a proven ability to convince people to vote for him on the stump, especially in New Hampshire, a quality that Romney has yet to prove. But unlike McCain, Romney will have lots of money to spend on persuasion. If Romney fails to win the nomination at this point it will simply be because people don’t like him enough to vote for him. But make no mistake: In this shrunken GOP field, Romney is the clear frontrunner, ready to ride the longstanding GOP tradition of the runner-up who wins next time.