"We have nearly reached the Rubicon when the ‘not Romney’ crowd is pining for Jon Huntsman"

So says Erick Erickson. Is he right?

I think it was a big mistake for Huntsman to write off Iowa. Today I am convinced of it. Every time the subject come up with Iowans I encounter, not to mention other conservatives here for the Hawkeye Caucii, they lament what might have been Jon Huntsman.

While I have issues with his record as Governor, it is much more conservative than Mitt Romney’s and he has a much, much greater cross-party and independent appeal than Mitt Romney. People kind of like he doesn’t give a crap about pandering.

But everyone closes their lament feeling Huntsman made a strategic decision to not ignore conservatives like Romney, but to give them the middle finger.

Can he atone for that flipping of the bird before next Tuesday? Ninety-five percent of you will say “NO” in the comments, but let’s see how that looks tomorrow morning if/when Romney’s just been crowned king of Iowa and there’s suddenly a real chance of him stomping his opponents into dust this month. Remember this too: Not since 1976 has the winner of the caucuses in a contested election gone on to win the New Hampshire primary, and in 1976 it only happened because Gerald Ford was an incumbent president trying to fend off a challenge from Reagan. Matthew Dowd says the frontrunner has to stumble somewhere:

In the last few open races for the Republican presidential nomination, voters have shown great reluctance in anointing someone too quickly. They have put up various road bumps along the way. In 2000, when George W. Bush came back after losing the New Hampshire primary and won South Carolina, and everyone thought he was now on a path to victory, he lost the Michigan primary three days later. In 2008, John McCain won New Hampshire, and then a week later lost Michigan to Romney…

Up until Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses, Romney has shown no capacity over the course of this campaign to grow his support above 30 percent outside of New Hampshire. This will become more and more of a problem as the field is winnowed to only a few candidates. Romney must show at some point after New Hampshire that he can win a much larger share of the vote in places like South Carolina or Florida and beyond — a big challenge for him.

For all the lip service paid to momentum after Iowa, not once in 35 years has that momentum been strong enough to propel the winner of a contested race to a second victory in New Hampshire. That’s explainable partly by demographics, of course — social cons do better in the midwest while, er, “mavericks” do better in the northeast — but it’s astounding to think that no candidate’s been able to play well enough to both electorates to win both states. The obvious question: Is there some segment of New Hampshire undecideds who vote against the Iowa winner simply for strategic reasons, whether to make the race “interesting” or to distinguish New Hampshire or for some other reason? If so, and if Romney wins tonight, who’s the likely beneficiary of that next week? Santorum will get a bounce of some sort, but he seems like a bad match for those voters. Paul is as maverick-y as they come, but Huntsman’s been hitting him with brutal ads over the newsletters so there may be a low ceiling for him now. Come Wednesday, Huntsman might be the only guy in the field who hasn’t lost a contested primary — yet — to Romney, which gives him a little extra “Not Romney” buzz, and if he gets the sort of second look from conservative media that Erickson’s hinting at, it could start to tilt undecideds towards him. All he has to do is hope for the best, do well at the debates this weekend, and then, um, figure out a way to win anywhere besides New Hampshire and he’s golden.

The hour of caucusing approacheth. Here’s something to cleanse the palate while we wait, in honor of Iowa’s near-irrelevance to the nomination. There’s only one truly good result that could come out of all this. It’s time, America.