Michelle Bachmann announced that she is leaving the race. Rick Perry announced that he is returning to Texas to assess his candidacy. Translation: he’s out. And then there were five.
Mitt Romney, the winner of the Iowa caucuses, is not the not-Romney, although he has every advantage right now: support, organization, money, and a win in Iowa.
Ron Paul is not the not-Romney because his beliefs in foreign policy frighten everyone except for his 19-year-old supporters and retired anarchists. It is almost impossible for him to get the nomination.
Rick Santorum is the second-place finisher in Iowa by only eight votes, the closest finish ever. He is the new not-Romney. But for how long?
Newt Gingrich did poorly in Iowa, and I suspect he will not do well in New Hampshire or South Carolina. His momentum is gone, and good.
Jon Huntsman, who of all the candidates would make the best president and the most formidable opponent against Obama, never campaigned in Iowa. He put all of his eggs in the New Hampshire basket, but has only a 10.8% support there according to the Real Clear Politics average as of this morning, compared to Romney’s 41%. If he loses there, his race is done.
So is Romney the inevitable candidate? To answer that we need to know what will happen to Perry and Bachmann’s supporters. Also, as Gingrich fades, where will his supporters go? Romney has the support to win in New Hampshire, but watch South Carolina. Gingrich is dropping, and Bachmann and Perry both had 6 or 7% support in polls. With Romney at 21%, those number matter a lot. The only way Romney can lose the nomination at this point is if (A) Gingrich drops, and his supporters join all Bachmann and Perry supporters (much of the evangelical vote) behind Santorum; and (B) Santorum develops a support organization at record speed. The former is impossible if Romney is seen as the inevitable nominee. The latter is just plain difficult.
Besides, Iowa and NH? Not bad. Ron Fournier writes this morning in National Journal.
If Romney wins New Hampshire, he would be the first non-incumbent Republican to sweep Iowa and the Granite State since the modern caucuses were formed. There is a reason why that’s never been done: Republican coalitions in Iowa and New Hampshire are mirror images of one another and, taken together, reflect the broad GOP electorate. In other words, a candidate who can win older, more conservative GOP voters in Iowa as well as white-collar, independent-minded Republicans in New Hampshire should be able to win everywhere.
Therefore, it remains: Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee.