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We REALLY Do Not Know

4:50 PM, Dec 13, 2011 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that we do not know who the GOP presidential nominee will be:

It could be Mitt Romney—though our warnings in this space a couple of weeks ago that his victory is by no means inevitable seem increasingly justified by the dynamics of the race.

The nominee could be Newt Gingrich—whose rise in the polls has been spectacular, and whose skills and appeal are still widely underestimated by many elites, including conservative elites. On the other hand, Gingrich’s own statement last Thursday that “I’m going to be the nominee” should be taken as a contrarian indicator that his campaign could hit some bumps....

The nominee could be Ron Paul—though it is likely that he will exceed expectations in early caucuses and primaries, but hit a ceiling of around a quarter of the vote.

It could be Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman, or Rick Santorum—though it’s probable that only one of them will survive Iowa, and that even that survivor will never quite make it into the top tier.

It could be someone not yet in the race. If the Gingrich surge turns into a Newt bubble, and if there continue s to be the present level of resistance to Romney, then anyone from Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin to Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Marco Rubio, or Jeb Bush—or someone else!—could jump into the race, or be dragged into the race, at various junctures over the next couple of months. Such a newcomer could quite conceivably win.

So we do not know who the nominee will be.

Let me repeat, with emphasis: We REALLY do not know who the GOP nominee will be.

A new PPP poll in Iowa has Newt Gingrich at 22 percent, Ron Paul at 21 percent, Mitt Romney at 16 percent, Michele Bachmann at 11 percent, Rick Perry at 9 percent, Rick Santorum at 8 percent, and Jon Huntsman at 5 percent. The news here is not simply that Paul has gained on Gingrich. It’s that Gingrich has dropped 5 points in the last week—and Romney (once again) hasn’t gained at all. The media may have decided it’s a two-person race—but someone forgot to tell the voters, at least in Iowa, where the two national front-runners have the support of less than two-fifths of likely Iowa caucus-goers. Furthermore, Gingrich is at net +12 favorable—trailing Paul (+30!) and Santorum (+16), and barely ahead of Bachmann (+11). Romney is at just +4. One of the conservatives (Bachmann, Santorum, or Perry) will presumably eventually pull away a bit from the others and make a move into double digits. Let’s call the conservative who succeeds in making that move BachSanPerry. Could Iowa end up as Paul-BachSanPerry-Gingrich-Romney?

What would then happen in New Hampshire? There, the new Rasmussen survey shows Romney with 33% of the vote (down from 41 percent in late October), followed by Gingrich at 22 percent, Paul at 18 percent, and Jon Huntsman at 10 percent. So even here, the two frontrunners currently have the support of barely more than half of likely voters. What’s more, over half of all New Hampshire voters also say they could change their mind—and history would suggest they will, both in the remainder of this month and especially in the week after Iowa. If Romney simply gives up another 8 points, and they go to Huntsman, New Hampshire could end up with something like Romney 25, Gingrich 22, Paul 18, Huntsman 18, BachSanPerry 15.

And then . . . ? It would be time to draft Tim Tebow—but he’s too young . . .

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