Both Joe Lawler and Jim Antle felt obliged to comment on Ross Douthat's column arguing for the "inevitability" of Mitt Romney as the GOP nominee. If Romney is the eventual nominee, the two key factors will be:
- The strategic miscalculation of the Rick Perry campaign in skipping the Ames Straw Poll and instead having their guy announce his candidacy in South Carolina. Iowa Republicans were deeply offended by that purposeful snub, which might not have mattered much had Perry been able to maintain his late-August/early-September front-runner surge. But now that Perry's scraping bottom (6th place in Iowa, 7th in New Hampshire) the campaign's arrogant roll-out is coming back to haunt them. Team Perry is now spending money to advertise in Iowa, but prospects of a recovery there are iffy at best. It will be hard for Perry to present himself as a viable alternative if he goes 1-for-5 in the first five nominating contests (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and Nevada).
- The failure of the Herman Cain campaign to build a credible "ground game" in the early states. Time magazine's Mark Benjamin has a brutal evaluation of this problem, which has been worrying Cain's supporters for months. One attendee at this past weekend's Iowa Faith & Freedom Forum mentioned that the Cain booth had no yard signs available: People were asking for the signs, but they had none to give. Such missed opportunities in terms of the rudiments of campaign organizing are hard to explain except as bungling incompetence and, with just seven weeks remaining until the Jan. 3 caucuses, time is rapidly running out.
Douthat's argument for Romney's inevitability seems to involve the assumption that Cain can't possibly win, which is an assumption his campaign has had to deal from the beginning. Karl Rove's smug dismissal of Cain is typical of this attitude. Yet for all Cain's shortcomings as a candidate, he is still capable of inspiring fervent grassroots support. If his campaign can somehow organize that support, a miraculous upset is yet possible.
One suspects that if Cain did manage to stop Romney, Rove would be as horrified as he was when Christine O'Donnell beat Mike Castle in last year's Delaware Senate primary. The prospect of embarrasing Karl Rove might be the kind of goal that finally inspires the Cain campaign to get organized.