If you Google “Romney inevitable” you get 1,980,000 results. The Romney campaign is hoping that the more his inevitability is discussed, the truer it will become. There is something to that. Political players want to be on the winning team. Donors don’t want to waste their money.
It’s heady stuff, I imagine, for the Romney team to read pieces like this by Jonathan Martin: “Hours after Chris Christie signaled he believes Mitt Romney is the Republican party’s inevitable nominee, Romney and the rest of the GOP field went about proving him right. Romney again outclassed the opposition in Tuesday’s Bloomberg/Washington Post debate. Again, none of the other GOP contenders laid a glove on him.”
But the notion that any candidate’s win is “inevitable” months before votes are cast is silly. Romney is without a doubt the front-runner with considerable momentum and weak opposition. But lots can happen, and there are dangers from attaining not only front-runner but media-denominated “inevitable” status.
First and foremost, the expectation is growing that he will or should win Iowa. Sure, he’s not spent much time there, but what if he loses to a revived Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)? That would sap some momentum and wipe out the inevitability chatter quickly.
Second, Romney can overplay the establishment consensus angle. Does getting the backing of former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert really make sense? (His defenders will argue that sometimes smaller fish induce bigger catches.) He should stop before he gets to former Florida governor Charlie Crist and Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), both of whom are reviled by conservatives.
Third, he could take a beating in South Carolina, as John McCain did in 2000, and head downward after that. It’s easier to lose when you aren’t expected to win; it’s another thing to get beaten in the conservative heartland.
And finally, the right could coalesce around a single candidate. Maybe that is Bachmann. Perhaps Rick Santorum finishes high in the pack in Iowa and gets Sarah Palin’s nod. Romney should be wary of being too nice to Cain. His 9-9-9 plan may be screwy, but he remains an attractive figure for many in the base.
Now, it is very possible none of these will come to pass. It’s also easy to imagine that Romney could weather a defeat in Iowa without suffering grievous injury. Romney and his team should keep in mind that they are 10 points back. Once they start to take votes for granted, they risk undoing years of work in laying the groundwork for this nomination.