Romney’s speech was billed by his advisers as his closing argument before the GOP nomination fight kicks off in earnest with the Iowa caucuses on January 3. But you would be forgiven for thinking it sounded more like the opening salvo in a general election. Romney drew no explicit—or, really, implicit—contrasts with any of his Republican rivals, training his fire exclusively on the Democrat in the Oval Office. His focus reflected a strategy from which his campaign has rarely deviated all year long. But it was also born of a confidence in Team Romney so deep it borders on serene: that the nomination is, if not in entirely the bag, then about to stuffed there soon. “The dynamics couldn’t be better for us,” says a senior Romney strategist. “I don’t see any scenario where we’re not the nominee.”…

“Who would’ve thought that Romney would get to this point without having a crapload of negative ads dropped on his head,” says a veteran Republican consultant. “It’s not like there’s not any material out there to work with, after all. But the other candidates have no money, so they can’t afford even to do the research, let alone pay for the airtime to really hurt him. And then, on top of that, they’re all incompetent, so they’ve wound up splitting the anti-Romney vote and opening up the door for him to win this thing real quick.”…

If things do indeed unfold this way, Romney will stand as unquestionably the luckiest nominee in modern Republican history—and also the most curious. For most of the year, he floated above the fray, not running for president so much as hovering over the sad and comic spectacle of his rivals’ imploding one by one. It was enough for him to appear presidential. Enough for him to debate well. Enough for him to avoid disaster. Just as in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king, in a contest with a bunch of clowns the guy without the funny nose and floppy shoes wins the day. But before Romney and his people get too giddy, they should remember one thing: Barack Obama, for all his flaws and weaknesses, won’t be wearing any greasepaint, either.