So the old consensus is new again: Mitt Romney’s got this.Romney is either tied or in first in Iowa. He is well ahead in New Hampshire. The pundits claim that Santorum and Paul will block a real challenger like Newt Gingrich or Rick Perry from becoming a formidable anti-Romney. And then Romney has the money and the momentum to hold off Santorum or another conservative challenger in the long run.
But inevitability can be a curse – just ask Hilary Clinton who was thought to be up by 9 points the night before the Iowa Caucuses.
Here is how Romney can lose:
Disappointing Iowa Performance: The SuperPAC aligned with Romney has spent a ton of money and though he tried to play down expectations, polls have had him at or the near the top of the pile since just before Christmas. If Paul and Santorum beat him tonight, and he finishes closer to fourth than to first, the story becomes that Mitt Romney underperformed: will he underperform again in New Hampshire?
Romney Campaign Doesn’t Take New Hampshire Seriously: Romney’s team has already scheduled their candidate to be in South Carolina on Thursday and Friday this week, projecting supreme confidence that their 40 per cent poll-numbers in New Hampshire won’t drop. But Romneys Iowa “loss” scrambles the race in New Hampshire and instead of winning by double digits – Romney drops down into the pack and “wins” New Hampshire in a photo finish with Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman. This “win” becomes poison for Romney, the way Edmund Muskie’s 1972 “win” in New Hampshire only signaled how weak he really was. (Santorum finishes 6th in New Hampshire and never recovers.)
Then Pandemonium: Republican big-wigs spend days after New Hampshire wondering aloud to the media how they can get a Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, or Jeb Bush into the race at the last second, thus preventing any chance of a “rally to Romney” effect. The collapse takes on unstoppable momentum in South Carolina, where Evangelical voters see their chance to not vote for a Mormon and rally to Rick Perry. Electability first voters split between the “surging” Huntsman and the dying star that is Mitt Romney. A nearly four way tie between those candidates and Paul means that no one is in the lead heading into Florida. But all the upward momentum is for Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman, and Ron Paul. These three candidates will be well-funded, and get lavish positive attention from the media with their success.
Romney throws everything at Michigan. Romney comes in fourth in Nevada, because Paul collects libertarians, Rick Perry wins businessfolk with ties to Texas, and the state’s Mormons choose Huntsman, who governed Utah next door. Romney’s gets a slight boost when he wins the (insignificant) Maine caucuses in the second week of February, and then retreats to Michigan, another “homestate” and promises to finish the turnaround. Senior level Republicans begin giving quotes to the media signaling that they are prepared for defeat at the hands of Obama. Whereas the entire race up to Iowa was looking for a non-Romney candidate, the race turns into a search for the non-Paul candidate. The country-club set wants either Perry or Huntsman.
Lost Cause: Romney fails to win Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri or Arizona in February – as voters become energized in those states when they realise their votes count. Grassroots Republicans want to become a part of the story of Romney’s collapse. And so Romney’s support in Michigan becomes depressed and voter shop for one of the other non-Paul candidates. It becomes clear that Romney will not be the nominee. he finishes a distant fourth in the Super Tuesday contests (March 6th). Winning the race becomes a mathematical impossibility then.
It would be the most stunning collapse in the modern primary system, but then America has gotten used to stunning collapses recently.
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