On arriving at the Democratic Convention of 1960, reporters asked Adlai Stevenson who would emerge as the nominee. “The last survivor,” he answered. Perhaps the 2012 Republican nomination will be determined by the same criterion.
With the departures of John ThuneJohn ThuneOvernight Tech: Last-ditch effort to get Dem FCC commish confirmed | Facebook's Sandberg on fake news | Microsoft completes LinkedIn deal FCC chairman willing to resign to get colleague confirmed Overnight Tech: AT&T, Time Warner CEOs defend merger before Congress | More tech execs join Trump team | Republican details path to undoing net neutrality MORE, Mike Pence, Mike Huckabee, Haley Barbour, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSenate passes stopgap funding bill, averting shutdown Critics of Jeff Sessions's LGBT case don't know their history (or his) Senate advances funding measure, avoiding shutdown MORE and, now, Mitch Daniels, we have constantly to revise our scenarios of the likely outcome.
Meanwhile, in the conservative quarterfinal, Michele BachmannMichele BachmannWill Trump back women’s museum? Michele Bachmann on Trump victory: ‘God did this’ The right-wing wants a revolution, and we had better pay attention MORE is the odds-on favorite now that Huckabee has gotten out of the way. An Iowa native, she seems ideally poised to win the first caucus. Her main rivals will be Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain. Newt has to finish above Bachmann. Will enough conservative women flock to Michele to overcome Gingrich’s advantage among the right-wing faithful? A lot depends on whether she can contain the grassfire of enthusiasm spreading for the Tea Party favorite, Cain. Now that enough insiders have dropped out, there might be running room for the charismatic former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza. But Bachmann’s role as the leader of the Tea Party Caucus in the House gives her a big advantage. From that perch, she can protest BoehnerJohn BoehnerNetanyahu: 'No question' about Trump's support for Israel The Hill's 12:30 Report Boehner compares Trump to Teddy Roosevelt MORE’s deals with Obama and demand a militancy as popular on the hustings as it is anathema in the House Speaker’s Office.
The most likely outcome in Iowa would be: Bachmann, Romney, Gingrich, Pawlenty, Cain, Huntsman.
Then attention will turn, of course, to New Hampshire, where Romney has a big lead whose solidity is questionable. Having failed to win there in 2008 facing McCain, can he prevail now that he has been out of office as Massachusetts governor for six years? Romney needs to win or he will be badly hurt. And, following a likely Bachmann win in Iowa, Gingrich must finish at least second to remain in contention.
The most likely result is that Bachmann and Romney head into South Carolina with major momentum. There, next door to Georgia, Newt will make his last stand. Failing an upset, the Mitt and Michele show will take to the road.
A battle of Romney vs. Bachmann would be less a struggle between the center and the right of the Republican Party than of its top against its bottom. The party establishment, its donors, its business allies and its elected officials would rally to Romney while the Tea Party and evangelical voters will back Bachmann. (In the Democratic Party, it’s always wise to bet on the bottom, but in the Republican Party, the top usually prevails.)
(If Chris Christie enters the race, all bets are off. He could win Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and everyplace else. But this particular dragon seems too reluctant to run.)
Working for Romney is a sense of legitimacy. The Republican Party is essentially monarchic, always looking for a duly anointed heir. With Bush leaving office intestate, Romney’s good run in 2008 and his loyalty to the GOP since create a sense that it is his turn. On the other hand, his RomneyCare legislation in Massachusetts will offer the Tea Party ranks of Michele Bachmann a huge target in primary after primary. Has the Republican Party become enough like the Democratic — dominated by an energized grass roots — that an upset is possible? We’ll see.
Morris, a former adviser to Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and President Clinton, is the author of Outrage, Fleeced, Catastrophe and 2010: Take Back America — A Battle Plan. To get all of his and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by e-mail or to order a signed copy of their latest book, Revolt!: How To Defeat Obama and Repeal His Socialist Programs — A Patriot’s Guide, go to dickmorris.com.