Not that long ago, it seemed almost certain that Mitt Romney would be the Republican nominee – although I decided not to give up yet on my long-held belief that Romney is unable to win because he’s an intelligent Mormon from the North. How certain did it seem? Romney was briefly considered to be over 90% likely to be the Republican nominee on Intrade.
But over the last couple of days, all hell has broken loose. First, Gingrich’s popularity soared after he delivered a standing-ovation-prompting defense of his plan to legalize child labor during the debates. Second, the Republican Party announced that after some recounting it considers Santorum, not Romney, the winner of the Iowa debates. This led to the third shock – a Gingrich victory in South Carolina, which now looks certain.
So as it stands now, there have been three races, and three winners. Santorum in Iowa, Romney in New Hampshire, and Gingrich in South Carolina. Gingrich is the one with the momentum, but Romney has a clear lead in Florida (votes Jan 31) according to the most recent polls, which were taken before the events of the last few days. Romney’s current numbers reflect a surge he experienced after his then-apparent win in Iowa and clear victory in New Hampshire, but now he’s looking a bit less like a winner and a bit more like somebody who was more of a loser than you thought. I would hypothesize that Republicans, due to their authoritarian nature, particularly gravitate towards those they see as powerful winners, and away from powerless losers. That probably explains at least part of Romney’s sudden decline in South Carolina after the Iowa revelation. Point being, Florida’s going to be a close fight, and Romney will not get a clear enough win to put away the competition.
None of the races after Florida have really gotten much attention, and there is very little polling data of any use. These later races also come pretty rapidly – Nevada, Maine, Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri are all within a few days of each other in early February. Then there’s a couple weeks break – with a few more races in late February/early March, and then Super Tuesday on March 6. Many of the Super Tuesday states are pretty red bible belt states and bad news for Romney, with the notable counterexample of Massachusetts, which is almost certain to go in Romney’s favor. What this means is, until Super Tuesday is over, it will be very difficult for Gingrich/Santorum to get knocked out. If they clearly get ahead of Romney – which seems unlikely based on Romney’s solid 20-30% base of support – they will still have to fight each other. The result, I anticipate, will be many months of a three-way race, depletion of Republican finances, and an unclear winner by the time of the convention. In other words, as I have projected already, the winner of the Republican nomination will be Nobody.
What happens after Nobody wins? Well, then we have a general election where one of the two main candidates is not anointed by a political party, but is instead picked by the voters as a whole. If that were to happen, hopefully voters will see the folly of supporting a particular party, and bring about non-partisan, true democracy in America.