Let me call it the Tim Pawlenty scenario, after the former Minnesota governor who dropped out of the race after he lost to Michele Bachmann (and Ron Paul) in the Ames, Iowa, Republican straw poll last August 13.

Where would Pawlenty be today if he hadn’t dropped out? That’s a question Rick Perry may have thought about. As with all historical counterfactuals, we don’t know the answer, but one plausible possibility is that he may have emerged, some time between August 13 and now, as the main challenger to Mitt Romney, and he may have proved to have more staying power in that role, indeed to have overtaken Romney by many if not all metrics and not just for a month but for a much longer period of time, if he had stayed in the race. He might—might, we can’t be sure of this, but for those of us who have observed him over the years the possibility doesn’t seem nontrivial—be right now on the most plausible flight path to the Republican nomination…

I think after the 1992 election these other Democrats I have mentioned—Gore, Kerry, Bentsen, Bradley, Gephardt and probably others—went through the following thought exercise. They said, let me make a list of the reasons I was not elected president in 1992.

Reason one: I did not run for president in 1992.

Reason two: There is no reason two.