So here you have a perfectly plausible scenario where we exit the early primary phase of the contest with four winners, each of whom is a legitimate presidential contender. What’s more, it’s not entirely clear how they knock each other out. Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul all represent different wings of the party, would draw from different fundraising bases, and would have different demographic appeals. Just as important: None is an obvious choice, but at the same time, unlike 2012, all will have a group of supporters that really likes them; it won’t just be an “anti-Bush” vote trying to coalesce. You can mix up the various winners (Rubio, Christie, Perry, Paul), but the same analysis holds.
Plus, we have states like New York, Utah and North Carolina that have moved up their primaries. We don’t have a good feel for these states, but you could take any one of the above scenarios, add Chris Christie in New York, Mitt Romney in Utah and any number of candidates in North Carolina. Moreover, a strong second-place finisher could decide that he is the next Bill Clinton (who famously won only one of the first 11 primaries in 1992), and try to keep going.
At that point, it really is anybody’s game. No one really has an incentive to drop out, as the RNC’s compressed schedule means the finish line is in sight by the time Super Tuesday rolls around, and all of these candidates can probably win a race here and there to keep the old ball rolling. Money might get tight, but the threshold for winning these contests remains low. It also becomes very difficult for any one candidate to amass a majority of the delegates very, very quickly.