“An amazing admission tonight from Ron Paul.

“In an exclusive interview, I asked him: ‘When you lay your head on your pillow at night, do you see yourself in the Oval Office?’

“‘Not really,’ he said.

“He went on to say that he’s not blind to the odds, but they are ‘not as slim as they were 25 years ago.'”

“A pumped-up Rick Perry, launching a final Iowa campaign swing Monday in pep-rally style, is confronting what will almost certainly be the first electoral defeat of a long life in politics. The question is what happens next…

“With a series of early-state voter tests about to start, there are serious doubts about his ability to survive a poor Iowa finish — and not only among Republican veterans. Party activists, eager for a nominee who can defeat Barack Obama, are watching and wondering…

“In putting his presidential chances on the line in the first Southern primary, he’ll be following a path blazed by another handsome three-term Texas governor who entered the Republican presidential campaign with great promise: John B. Connally, like Perry a conservative Democrat-turned-Republican with appeal to big-money donors. In 1980, a South Carolina defeat turned out to be trail’s end for Big John, whose career never recovered from an $11-million candidacy that yielded just one delegate vote.”

“Newt Gingrich here tonight told a crowd that he made a mistake in saying earlier today that he wouldn’t win the Iowa caucuses.

“He blamed the issue on what he said was a compound sentence structure that the media dissected…

“Gingrich noted to tonight’s crowd in Davenport that some of his supporters were irritated about the comment because it makes it harder for them to round up support for tomorrow’s caucuses. A precinct captain, for example, told him on a telephone conference today that the statement was troubling to his recruitment efforts.”

“The famously conservative paper’s endorsement was a priceless gift. The former House Speaker proceeded to squander it.

“In doing so, Gingrich revealed that he learned all the wrong lessons from his campaign’s collapse this summer and none of the right ones from his remarkable comeback.

“Instead of seizing the moment and making an aggressive case for why the contest was now a two-man race between a movement conservative and flip-flopping moderate — a unique opportunity afforded by the endorsement’s implicit-but-unmistakable critique of Mitt Romney in his firewall state — Gingrich fell back to his familiar habits, a routine marked by too much self-assurance and not enough discipline.

“Between that and some other key factors — among them, Romney’s super PAC blitzkrieg and his own weak fundraising — a campaign that seemed on the cusp of stealing the nomination barely a month ago now faces an ignominious fourth place finish or worse. And the dramatic arc of the final chapter in his political career suddenly seems a lot less triumphant.”

“1) What if Tim Pawlenty had not staked everything on the Iowa Straw Poll? The most important asset held by TimPaw’s low-energy campaign was potential. He was more than acceptable to every single element of the GOP, and he positioned himself almost ideally to benefit from the inevitable demise of other candidates. But he wasn’t around to reap the harvest when nearly all of them imploded, because he threw all his money into Ames and lost. What if he had kept his powder a bit dryer?

“2) What if Mike Huckabee or [fill in the blank] had run? When Huck pulled back from a 2012 campaign in May, he was running first in the most recent national poll of Republicans that included his name, and also had the best favorable/unfavorable ratio in the field. Had he run, he would have been the instant and perhaps overwhelming front-runner in Iowa, where he beat Mitt Romney handily despite a vast financial disadvantage. Considering the heights deeply flawed candidates like Bachmann, Cain and Gingrich reached before their inevitable crashes, how high might Huckabee have flown, with his powerful appeal to evangelical Christians and his knack for gaining favorable ‘earned media,’ even from liberals? And is there any chance Romney would have risked a second loss to Huck in Iowa? No, not one…

4) What if anti-Romney conservatives had united behind anyone? The most abiding question is what might have happened if the conservatives who kept saying they wanted anybody other than Romney had figured out a way to identify that ‘anybody’ and gotten behind that candidacy. Perhaps they thought Romney couldn’t win and they were free to back their personal favorites. Maybe they figured somebody else would take the risk of going medieval on him and taking him down. But in the end, even the famously disciplined shock troops of the Christian Right couldn’t make up their minds, and unless a final Iowa surge by Rick Santorum provides a lightning rod, they will go to the caucuses fatally divided when they might have been united.”

“This is where four years of planning come in handy. Mr. Romney built a campaign war chest and a pro-Romney super PAC. The Romney campaign and the outside organization could spend millions on ads and mailers taking down rivals, allowing the candidate to remain above the fray and concentrate on his more positive message.

“That message, by contrast to 2008, has been focused, unwavering, relentless. Mr. Romney has taken positions and stuck with them, even if it has meant defending the likes of RomneyCare. In Iowa, New Hampshire and everywhere else, voters have heard—again, and again, and again—the same two messages: He has the business and management experience to competently turn around the country, and he is the most electable against Mr. Obama…

“So while Mr. Romney may not excite them, while he may not be ideal, in light of the other candidate’s problems, and given the election stakes, voters are buying his argument that he is, well . . . good enough. Which is why, barring a surprise, or a late entrant, Mr. Good Enough—through good fortune, dogged determination, and the skillful elimination of his rivals—may end up grabbing the conservative ring in this all-important election year.”

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