“Buoyed by a series of strong debate performances, Mitt Romney is suddenly attracting new support from major donors and elected officials, some of whom had resisted his previous entreaties, as people across the GOP grow more accepting of the presidential contender as the party’s standard-bearer.

“‘He’s viewed as an almost inevitable candidate,’ said longtime strategist Ed Rollins, who until last month managed the campaign of Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), one of Romney’s opponents. ‘He’s the heavy favorite.’…

“‘What’s more, the decision of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — who would have posed a serious threat — not to run and then to endorse Romney ‘pulled the cork,’ in the words of one Romney adviser, on a bevy of major Republican donors who had been sitting on the sidelines. The new ‘bundlers,’ working to curry favor with Romney, are filling the candidate’s October and November calendar with fundraising events in Florida, New York and elsewhere.'”

“Rick Perry supporters are nervous that the Texas governor won’t improve enough as a debater to be able to rally conservatives to his side and emerge as the counterweight to Mitt Romney…

“‘As a Perry supporter, I was very disappointed at a number of occasions in the debate. … Perry hasn’t demonstrated an ability to either land an attack or defend himself and then land an attack,’ said one Republican strategist who backs Perry. ‘He couldn’t land a punch on the economic issues and he didn’t even talk about the Texas jobs record until the second hour … and how you don’t have your economic plan ready for a debate on Bloomberg, I don’t know.’…

“‘The dynamic that scares me most is he’s quickly not becoming the inevitable Romney alternative, and he needed that process to happen quickly,’ the strategist said. ‘I think now no one has to get out before January. Cain went from someone who was not a factor to one who’s now a major factor. Now it’s a problem — if Romney goes into Iowa with a divided conservative vote and does well, that makes it very hard for Perry.'”

“Mitt Romney hasn’t won anything yet but President Barack Obama’s campaign team is confident enough that Romney is the probable – if not the presumptive – Republican nominee that they have begun aiming their fire almost exclusively at him.

“They were also motivated, top Democrats told POLITICO, by anger at the GOP field for not hitting Romney sufficiently hard on his well-documented position shifts on abortion rights, civil unions and health care reform.

“‘The other Republicans have sucked so bad we didn’t have any choice’ but begin to target Romney months before the Iowa caucuses, said a top Obama ally, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“‘I don’t think this race over, people don’t fully get the power of $17 million,’ said a senior Obama strategist, referring to Perry’s formidable war chest. ‘But is Romney a significant candidate who poses a challenge? Yes. Is he a candidate who deserves a much higher level of scrutiny, instead of the free ride he’s been getting from the rest of the field, and even [debate] moderators? Yes. Absolutely.'”

“I keep coming back to this: There must be a reason why Republican voters haven’t rallied around Romney the way they did George W. Bush in 1999. Remember, there was an anti-Bush vote then, too. But it was never substantial enough to challenge the front-runner. Bush was up over the 40 percent mark by summer of 1999 and was at 62 percent by October 1999. If Romney had those kinds of numbers, he’d be unassailable. But I think it’s telling that, despite his money, his organization, his establishment backing, and the fact that he’s been running the longest–he hasn’t been able to get over the mid-20s. If you like Romney’s chances, you have to have an explanation for why this is.

“Remember: Even Bush, with his 40-point lead, got dragged into a dogfight with John McCain–who was in third place until late fall of 1999. Why? Because one of the axioms of American politics is this: All races tighten.

“None of this means that I want Perry to win or that I want Romney to lose. (The only thing I really want is for Mitch Daniels to suddenly jump in and ride to the nomination. And that ain’t happening.) What it means is that I believe Romney has structural weaknesses and has not been seriously challenged by his opponents yet; that early momentum from Iowa has proved very powerful; that Perry has positional and political strengths (to go along with his obvious weaknesses in the debates and on immigration); and that a 7-point gap between lead candidates right now is not dispositive.”

“Is Mitt Romney really a conservative? For several years, he has tried to assure Republican primary voters that he is. But in last night’s Washington Post/Bloomberg debate, he sent multiple signals that beneath his orthodox positions on many issues — unions, stimulus-bashing, corporate tax relief — lurks some liberal thinking

If I’m going to use precious dollars to reduce taxes, I want to focus on where the people are hurting the most. That’s Romney’s most revealing statement of the night. A property-oriented conservative would say that dollars belong to the people who earned them and that tax cuts should let them keep more of their money. But Romney’s formulation — ‘use precious dollars to reduce taxes’ — assumes that the dollars are his to ‘focus,’ i.e. distribute, according to need. Again, it’s a defensible worldview. But it’s fundamentally liberal.

“Don’t get me wrong. Romney’s positions on taxes, regulation, and military spending put him clearly in the right half of the political spectrum. But his comments last night show a leakage of liberal sentiments well before the general election.”

“The reason is simple: Romney is not a conservative. He’s not, folks. You can argue with me all day long on that, but he isn’t. What he has going for him is that he’s not Obama and that he is doing incredibly well in the debates because he’s done it a long time. He’s very seasoned. He never makes a mistake, and he’s going to keep winning these things if he never makes a mistake. It’s that simple. But I’m not personally ready to settle on anybody yet — and I know that neither are most of you, and I also know that most of you do not want this over now, before we’ve even had a single primary! All we’ve had are straw votes. You know that the Republican establishment’s trying to nail this down and end it. You know that that’s happening, and I know that you don’t want that to happen, and neither do I.

“Now, as for Romney — and you should know, by the way, that I’ve met Romney. I’ve not played golf with him but I’ve met him, and I like all of these people. This isn’t personal, not with what country faces and so forth. I like him very much. I’ve spent some social time with him. He’s a fine guy. He’s very nice gentleman. He is a gentleman. But he’s not a conservative — and if you disagree, I’m open. The telephone lines are yours.”

Click the image to watch.

Via Mediaite.