I still like Perry's chances

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.