Here’s a great visual representation of exactly how much fun the GOP primary campaign has been so far, via Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo. This is the shape of the primary so far in Iowa:
Fear the boom and bust, indeed.
The national polling is similarly contorted, and it suggests that the Republican party is in a bit of a pickle: They think they can win against Obama in 2012. But they don’t have a candidate they think they can win with.
Try talking to Republicans about Mitt Romney, and you’ll find two things: First, a lot of them don’t want to talk, and when they decline they frequently stress the need for maintaining a good working relationship should Romney become the nominee. Those who do talk tend to say a few cautiously nice things about him. He’s a decent guy. He’s a good manager. He’s intelligent. He knows business. But it’s hard to find party insiders or activists who are genuinely enthusiastic about his candidacy. The people who like him best—self-styled moderates and business folks who shy away from the rougher edges of the party’s activist base—are merely comfortable with him, because they see, or think they see, a familiar type of individual.
So it's clear that core support for Mitt Romney is limited. Which explains the hunt for an alternative. Ronald Brownstein has explained this hunt for a Not-Mitt by arguing that there are essentially two primaries going on; the Tea Party primary, and the primary for everyone else.
The TPM poll graph provides a striking illustration of the fluidity of the Tea Party primary. Michelle Bachmann. Rick Perry. Herman Cain. They’ve all ridden the hype-wave. And they all crashed fairly quickly. Now it looks like Newt Gingrich is going for the same ride. But Gingrich makes both an odd anti-Romney and a dubious Tea Party candidate. I’ve already written a column-length take on Gingrich, so I’ll just say that this recently released Ron Paul attack ad does an effective job of laying out why he’s such an awkward fit:
It's easy enough to understand why the GOP base would look for an alternative to someone they view as a technocratic centrist flip-flopper. It's harder to understand why they would settle on someone who could be described the same way.