Santorum, meanwhile, gives every impression of being a flavor of the week who happened to hit at just the right time for a surprise in Iowa. If Iowa had happened a week earlier, it would've been Paul with 25%. Two weeks before that, it would've been Gingrich. I expect Santorum to do reasonably well (15%? 20%?) in New Hampshire but just not have the funding or infrastructure to maintain a run beyond that. He could do okay in South Carolina, but Rick Perry's decision to compete there means the Evangelical vote will be largely split, providing a big help to Romney.
All this said, Romney is a very curious candidate. I can't think of a previous presidential candidate with such an enormous advantage in insider support who was nonetheless so despised by such a substantial chunk of his party. (Hubert Humphrey? Maybe, but he at least had an impressive track record on issues like civil rights that might have reassured liberal activists in 1968. Romney has no such goodwill among conservative activists.) The question is what that means for this year. My impression has been that conservatives will largely suck it up. Despite their misgivings about Romney's faith and his pretty recent liberalism, they will come to view him as far superior to four more years of Obama, and they will turn out for him. Some Republicans tell me otherwise, though. Will Evangelical activists stay home? Will Tea Partiers back a third party candidate? What if Ron Paul runs as a Libertarian or on the Americans Elect ticket? Yeah, that could mess up the election for Republicans big time.
This idea that the party faithful are going to abandon this or that candidate who lacks sufficient ideological purity is trotted out in virtually every election. Is there data that supports it? For example, did conservatives not vote for John McCain or George H.W. Bush? Did liberals not turn out for Bill Clinton or Al Gore?
Well, yes, that threat is probably issued a bit too frequently. But at some point, it must be true, no? Didn't many hardcore conservatives abandon George HW Bush in 1992? Didn't many Democratic voters abandon Al Smith because of his Catholicism in 1928? Maybe Republicans nominating Romney is like Democrats nominating an African American in 1968 or 1972.
While there are many reasons to believe that Ron Paul might run as a Libertarian candidate, he probably won't, because his son has ambitions within the GOP.
One group of anti-Romney Republicans that won't defect are those evangelicals who dislike Mormonism. Apparently the most theologically conservative are also the most politically conservative, i.e., those who distrust Mormons also tend to dislike Obama.
See this Pew poll: http://www.pewforum.org/Politics-and-Elections/Romneys-Mormon-Faith-Likely-a-Factor-in-Primaries-Not-in-a-General-Election.aspx
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