What if Romney decides not to run?

K-Lo, a Romney fan of longstanding, thinks the unthinkable at NRO. And the Conservatives 4 Palin people are all over it.

Given that his path to the nomination is impossible unless Mike Huckabee runs, something no serious person believes will happen, Lopez may be way ahead of the curve.

The Daily Kos pollster found that Governor Palin was the top second choice among Romney’s current supporters, a result that I did not find surprising considering that a lot of Romney’s support comes from Mormons and that Palin would likely get their support in the event he did not run for the presidency given that Mormons are generally very conservative.

Alternate headline: “Blogger not a serious person.” As unlikely as this scenario is — especially given how many favors Romney bought by donating to GOP candidates before the midterms — I suppose there’s a chance that his polling will look so grim in three months, say, that he’ll decide there’s simply no path to the nomination. The albatross of RomneyCare around his neck is too heavy, the strength of tea party enthusiasm for a “true conservative” nominee too great. Why spend tens of millions on yet another futile run through the primaries? Two problems with that theory, though. One: Given the uncertainty of the polling and even of the composition of the presidential field, how would Mitt know for sure that he has no chance to win? His numbers in that CNN poll I blogged earlier were better than Palin’s; his numbers in Florida, while currently dismal, could soar if he wins New Hampshire and emerges as the candidate favored by centrist Republicans. If the economy recovers slowly in the first half of 2011, his resume will seem even more appealing to independents focused on unemployment. It’s hard to imagine him concluding that he has so little chance to win that it’s not even worth trying after the GOP united behind a famously centrist amnesty shill just two years ago.

The other problem is really a question: Would Romney dropping out benefit the “true conservatives” in the race? He’s the most well known of the centrist candidates, so Palin, Huckabee, and Gingrich would have a bigger advantage in name recognition over the rest of the field. But Romney’s also arguably the weakest centrist thanks to health care and the religious objections some base voters have to his faith. Thune, Pawlenty, and Daniels don’t carry that same baggage, and Daniels has lately tried to repair some of the damage from his comments about a “truce” on social issue by insisting that he had liberals in mind when he said that, not social cons. Without Romney in the race, New Hampshire would be a huge opportunity for the pragmatist dark horses to pick up momentum, especially right after the social con war in Iowa. In fact, with Romney out, I’d bet Gingrich would immediately reposition himself as the experienced political manager rather than the guy who tries to work “secular socialist machine” into every other soundbite to pander to fiscal and social cons.

C4P does make a good point, though, about Mormon support for Romney potentially having an impact. He’s the favorite in the Nevada caucuses, which will be held shortly after New Hampshire, precisely because there’s a large Mormon population there. Without him among the field, those voters are likely to split for social conservatives instead, which means the momentum for whoever wins New Hampshire could be blunted very quickly. Which is to say, if you’re a Palin (or Huck or Newt) fan, then yeah, you probably want Mitt out. But I doubt you’ll get your wish.