WHATEVER RON PAUL IS, HE'S NEVER GOING TO BE THE NEXT NOT-ROMNEY
I think Ron Paul is going to be a significant factor in the GOP primaries -- he's better than Gingrich at raising money, he's built a far more serious campaign structure, and he has passionate followers. On the other hand, if the Iowa caucuses were held tomorrow, I'm sure he'd lose to Gingrich (though he could very well beat Romney), because Fox News and the debates are replacing meetings in the grange hall as the most important way candidates sell themselves, and Gingrich has mastered the new-style campaign.
Also, of course, Ron Paul says stuff like this:
Ron Paul: 9/11 prompted "glee" in Bush administration
Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul said Thursday evening that Bush administration officials were gleeful after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks because it gave them a pretext to invade Iraq.
"Just think of what happened after 9/11. Immediately before there was any assessment there was glee in the administration because now we can invade Iraq," the Texas Republican told a group of mostly young backers in Iowa. He went on to suggest officials are now setting the stage for an invasion of Iran....
Me, I wouldn't call it glee, exactly -- I'd say the reaction was more along the lines of "Well, there is a silver lining, isn't there?," even if no Bushie ever said that out loud.
But it doesn't matter what I think. What matters is that Paul fans love this and every other Republican hates it, because the Bush reaction to 9/11 was holy and divinely inspired and absolutely appropriate and how dare you suggest otherwise, you filthy hippie. With this and with his universal opposition to foreign aid, including aid to Israel, as well as to exciting wars against brown Antichrists in general, Paul rules himself out as someone who could go down to the wire with Mitt Romney and deny Romney a first-ballot victory if Newt Gingrich falters. There's a ceiling on his potential vote total in GOP primaries and caucuses -- so if the race is going to come down to late states in which he and Romney are the last candidates standing, with the delegates in those states being awarded on a winner-take-all basis, Romney's going to run the table and coast to the nomination.
I don't really think it's going to come to that. I think Gingrich will continue to be a factor -- he doesn't seem likely to have a Perry-style series of gaffes (mainly because he has such manic self-confidence that he recovers from gaffes, and insists that they weren't gaffes at all, and will say something that utterly contradicts any gaffe in such a convincing manner that he actually seems to think his new pronouncement is what he's always believed, which makes it persuasive). Unless he's recently been cheating on Callista, he's not going to have a Cain-like fall. To get him on a scandal (sexual or financial), you've got to find something that exceeds his baseline. People expect him to be horny and money-grubbing, and they shrug it off; to get him, you've got to find something way worse than what we already know. (Which is not to say that's impossible.)
I don't think we're going to keep having a rotating series of not-Romneys. The base seems to have decided Bachmann is over -- I'm not sure why. (Sexism? I keep wondering if that's it -- do they want a man on a white horse? Or is it just that, unlike Sarah Palin, she doesn't seem like a groin-kicking Ninja Girl superheroine, which is, I think, the archetype a female Republican needs to embody to win at this level?) Santorum just can't connect. Huntsman, besides having an apparently irreversible reputation as a moderate, is just too freaking dull. (And besides, even if he does reasonably well in New Hampshire, what comes after that -- South Carolina? He'll be lucky if he beats Fred Karger and Buddy Roemer there, given that he's a believer in climate change and a Mormon.) Perry? I suppose he could connect with Iowa evangelicals, but he's way too Southern for New Hampshire, and while he ought to have a chance in South Carolina, by the time we get to Florida, he's the guy who called Social Security a Ponzi scheme. So any Perry comeback will die in the Sunshine State.)
So I think it's Romney/Gingrich/Paul, and I think Paul will become less of a factor as time goes by. Therefore, I'm skeptical about the "brokered convention" scenario. (As Jonathan Bernstein notes, you need at least three candidates with significant delegate counts to have a brokered convention.) Yes, I gather that there's still theoretically time for late entries, as Rhodes Cook explained on Larry Sabato's site this week, but I don't see the establishment giving up on Romney that easily. Unless Romney's vote totals are abysmal in the early states, he's going to stay in, say "It's a marathon, not a sprint," and use his money to keep fighting as Huntsman and Santorum and Bachmann and Perry drop out. The delegates are distributed proportionally in the early states, so he won't be that far behind even if Gingrich and Paul beat him everywhere but New Hampshire. Then it's just a question of whether he and the establishment can beat Gingrich -- and whether Gingrich can beat himself.