With Hermain Cain riding high in the polls and former Governor Mitt Romney racking up endorsements, some cracks have started to show in the campaigns of their opponents for the GOP nomination.
In recent days, a prominent Tea Party leader has called on Michelle Bachmann to quit, Rick Perry has floated the idea of skipping some upcoming debates, and Jon Huntsman has retreated to New Hampshire. The rest of the field has so far proven unable to distinguish themselves from the pack. Traditionally, developments like these favour the candidate with the most money, the best organization, and the strongest base of support—in this case, Mitt Romney.
There is a consistent pattern emerging in this race and that is the stability of the support for Romney. It’s not high, and it shows little growth beyond 25 per cent, but it’s steady. His debate performances in this campaign far surpass those of 2008, leading a growing number of people to view him as the one to beat. Despite the buzz about Cain, the pizza magnate’s support could prove volatile once the primary season begins.
The nature of the process would also seem to favour ‘steady-as-he-goes’ Romney. There are 18 debates left for Romney to show off his rhetorical skills and the primaries in crucial states, such as Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, have been front-loaded, which should go a long way to reducing the field of candidates. Romney may not be a shoo-in in any of them, but he has the money, the organization, and enough key endorsements to be highly competitive in each.
Will the anybody-but-Romney forces be able to stall him long enough to derail his campaign and allow a new challenger to come up the middle? Right now, it does not seem likely. Perry’s disappointing performance in the debates and in recent interviews make him less likely to be that challenger. And last week’s flirtation with the birther movement put a big dent in Perry’s credibility. Thank you, Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, Cain’s surge is seen by veteran Republicans as temporary and his 9-9-9 tax plan is starting to lose some steam. Newt Gingrich probably has the wherewithal to mount a decent challenge if he surprises in the early primaries, but the problem with Gingrich is the baggage he carries.
The Republicans who write op-eds and go on cable news shows seem unenthusiastic about Romney but resigned to the reality that it may not be possible to stop him. Indeed, unless there are skeletons in Romney’s closet, there may soon be no one but Barack Obama standing between him and the White House.