I predicted that as the dust cleared, Gingrich would start dominating Romney as the primaries rolled on, with Ron Paul polling decent numbers and having just the slightest outside chance to make some noise.
Then the story broke today that Newt asked is ex-wife for an open marriage. GAME OVER.
Perry is done. Bachmann is done. Cain is done. Santorum actually won Iowa. Ron Paul is showing well but has not shown well enough to pick up too many delegates, even under the proportional system in place this time around.
Let's hope Newt bows out soon, either late this week or right after S.C. votes. Ick. That leaves Romney-Santorum-Paul.
The beauty of that is each significant wing of the Republican Party has it's representative: Moneyed pseudo-aristocrats (but a Mormon?), bible-thumping conservatives ('ol Rickey actually compared homosexuality to bestiality - somewhere Jerry Falwell is beaming with pride), and the libertarians (though could Ron Paul have looked any more confused and bumbling in answering foreign policy questions at the last debate?)
Romney is maxed out at 35%. Paul is maxed out at 20% (most places). That leaves 45% for Santorum on his worst day as the polls look right now. If I'm 'ol Rickey, I'm channeling my inner Reagan for the convention. In other words, I like my chances.
But Romney may also benefit, ironically, from the field thinning. The CW was this was his only real threat, that the field would thin too soon and the "anti-Romney" would take human form, rather than be ephemerally defined as 65% of registered Republicans. But if Romney had to pick someone to go head-to-head with (as Paul is a given in any scenario), Santorum is ideal. He can't outshine Romney in the debates as Newt did. He can't hang in the fundraising game as Perry, or Newt could have. And now the un-electability argument really holds sway for Romney, because Santorum looks a whole lot like Pat Buchanan, a guy that practically defines un-electable right-wing figures. Don't be surprised to start hearing that name here and there among the MSM.
The problem for Romney is that now all the money sitting on the sidelines has a place to go (Santorum) if Romney doesn't finish him quickly. Romney must win decisively in South Carolina and Florida, at which point the conservatives will admit defeat and Romney will just simply ignore Ron Paul. And so will the media. However, if Santorum soaks up that anti-Romney vote with some immediacy (which I believe he will) he can do some damage. If I were him, I'd stop agreeing to debates as soon as possible. He talks too fast, and Romney just looks more presidential on the stage.
Bottom line, this is Romney's to lose more than ever, because Santorum just isn't ready for primetime. He's a below-average debater, inept fundraiser and is a lot better retail politician than a mass market one. If Paul had developed a clean and concise way to express his foreign policy positions, he'd be much more formidable, but he doesn't have the discipline or skilled handlers necessary to make it happen.
If I were Chris Christie, I'd be looking long and hard about jumping into this race. Romney hasn't amassed too many delegates, and if Santorum quickly demonstrates he's not up to the task, there WILL be an opportunity for someone to jump in late. It may require convincing Santorum to step aside, but that could be arranged - he's definitely VP material. If I'm Christie, I'm quietly making calls today. Without Perry, Cain, Gingrich and Bachmann sapping both votes and fundraising dollars from you, you've got a heck of a shot. But, you've got to time it all perfectly and essentially replace Santorum after a bad showing in Florida.
With a 0.3% chance of getting the nomination according to Intrade, Christie is the ultimate value bet. Santorum, at 1%, is a darn good bet too.