“In previous visits, Romney has drawn respectful crowds if little enthusiasm. Tuesday night he drew cheers from an overflow crowd, which spilled out of the ballroom and into the adjoining hallway, when he laid out a dramatic vision for the 2012 general election to come.

“”This is an election not only to replace a president. It is an election to save the soul of America,’ Romney said. ‘It is a choice between two destinies.'”

“Let’s start with the obvious: Any day from now through Iowa and New Hampshire when the fundamentals of the GOP primary do not change is a good day for Romney. The former Massachusetts governor is at the top of the pack in Iowa. Opponents who once posed a terminal threat to his campaign – Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and others – are now scrambling to catch up.

“Even on a more incremental level, Romney had a better Tuesday than anyone else in the race. He had a triumphant swing with Sen. Kelly Ayotte through New Hampshire, where Romney compared Gingrich to ‘Lucille Ball at the chocolate factory’ for failing to qualify for the Virginia primary ballot. That’s a new level of cockiness for a candidate who has spent much of the 2012 race in a metaphorical bunker…

“Romney will have to do more than coast for the next six days if he’s going to make the most of the opening for him in Iowa. But time is on his side; at this rate, his biggest challenge next week may be controlling expectations in the caucuses.”

“[F]rontrunners win. Period. They don’t get to make excuses about extenuating circumstances and the way the deck was stacked against them.

“Second, polling in the runup to Iowa suggests the race is basically a three-way tie for first between Romney, Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul. Both Romney and his aligned super PAC — known as ‘Restore our Future’ — are now spending heavily in the state, and the former Massachusetts governor is flooding Iowa with surrogates over the final few days before the caucuses to make his case.

“Combine Romney’s status as the national frontrunner with the fact that he is in a dead heat in the state a week out, and it’s virtually impossible to see how a third-place finish could be spun as a victory — particularly if Gingrich wins.”

“This disconnect between expectations and performance is potentially quite dangerous to Mr. Romney. Consider Iowa, for instance. Mr. Romney currently projects to about 22 percent of the vote there, but the history of Iowa is one of volatile polling right up to the last minute — and sometimes huge surprises on election night. Our state-by-state forecasts, which account for this uncertainty, say that Mr. Romney could finish with as much as 36 percent of the vote in Iowa, but also as little as 8 percent, which could drop him all the way down to fifth or sixth place…

“As I frequently remind our readers, the momentum that candidates get out of the early states has historically had as much to do with expectations as the actual results. Even a third-place finish in Iowa, much less something worse, might now be viewed as disappointing for Mr. Romney, increasing the risk of either a loss in New Hampshire or a close call that made Mr. Romney vulnerable heading into South Carolina and Florida.

“My view is that the probability of these scenarios is higher than is generally acknowledged.”

“As a preliminary matter, it will be incumbent on Romney antagonists, should he win the nomination, to give up the fiction that the ‘elites’ or ‘insiders’ or ‘establishment’ foisted Romney on the party. The notion that any clique could exercise such power was always a red herring, but if Romney wins a majority of delegates it will be confirmation that he, and not his antagonists, have the confidence of the Republican electorate. Whether the pundits who railed against him might then consider how little they understand the actual electorate (as opposed to their limited readership) would be an open question.

“At that point there would be no knight in shining armor whom some may look to for salvation. If New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) had wanted to run they would have. The recognition that “ideal” candidates are candidates who would have had to muster the gumption to run should dawn on disgruntled Republicans.

“In short, it will be time for anti-Romney forces, who flourish most visibly in the punditocracy and among activists and select organizations, to get real and get with the Romney election effort unless they want four more years of Obama. (And frankly some do, for being out of power allows them to foment continual discontent in the base and posit themselves as the guardians of political purity.)”

“But as it appears yet again that the GOP is resorting to a default candidate, much like it did in 2008 with Arizona Sen. John McCain, a good number of conservatives can’t help but feel like they’re being forced into an arranged marriage. And that in a few months, when all the fanfare of the Republican presidential primaries is finished, we’ll be relegated to walking down the aisle to meet a groom we just aren’t that into, we have trust issues with because of a spotty past or we simply find unexciting and phony…

“A philosopher once said, ‘What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility.’ While we know Romney has a wandering eye and likes to look at crazy liberal ideas, he’s likely to return to the mother ship with flowers and chocolates at the last moment.

“Marrying for simple attraction can come with a lot of problems: Just look at our country, where so many couples get divorced. But a traditional arranged marriage could be a success. As long as the same goals are shared — like ensuring Obama is a one-term President and getting the country back on track — it can work. That’s something to keep in mind for Republicans, who will likely be forced to say, ‘I do.'”

“They show pictures of dilapidated, long since closed factories. They trot out scruffy looking workers talking about how bad life has been since Mitt Romney crushed their dreams and cost them their jobs. Then they show a clip of Mitt making his $10,000 bet and posing with money in his clothes. All Mitt needs is a monocle and a sniveling Waylon Smithers type character to follow him around shining his shoes to make him into the prototypical bad guy the Democrats are trying to create.

“Now, the point of this isn’t to say that what Mitt did at Bain Capital was dishonorable. It certainly wasn’t. To the contrary, as a conservative, I find his work in the private sector to be just about the only thing he has going for him. But, people should realize that in a general election, Mitt’s time at Bain Capital will probably end up being somewhere between a small asset and a large liability, depending on which side does a better job of defining it.”