The GOP's problems are multiple: three contests into the season (Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina) have not produced a clear front-runner. In fact, they've been won by three different candidates -- Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. Populist (and I say that with a tinge of facetiousness) Ron Paul Sr. has fared moderately well in each, and will continue to play spoiler, syphoning away key votes from the young and the restless Libertarians. Or, he will at some point attempt to barter delegates for influence. Or he will end up running as an independent and really screw things up for the party.
In what has got to be incredibly frustrating to Romney and his campaign, Mr. Inevitable is looking more and more like Mr. Improbable with each passing day. He can't seem to break out of his 25% range (with the exception of the very Mitt-friendly "Live Free or Die" state) and his increasing desperation has made him extremely negative, a quality that, unlike Newt, does not come naturally to him nor, unlike Newt, is one he's good at. At last week's debate he vowed to stay positive yet within the first minutes of Monday's debate he went for Gingrich's jugular, claiming he was "disgraced" out of Washington in the late 90's. Moderator Brian Williams dutifully called him on this clear flip-flop. "Here we are again," lamented Williams.
After a landslide victory in South Carolina, it would appear that Gingrich's momentum in the South will continue -- the next big primary being Florida on January 31 -- while Santorum continues to split the evangelical vote. But the truth is, Gingrich has zero chance of winning the nomination. He's under-funded, has little organization on the ground in most states, and is the king of self-destruction. He's a cranky, bitter, baggage-laden old insider who's laughably portraying himself as the outsider most qualified to reign in Washington's excess and crony capitalism. The man who helped break the system wants voters to believe that only he can fix it. This is a campaign that has, for all intents and purposes, already imploded. Like a volcano, the visible eruption simply has yet to surface.
Santorum is simply too extreme to catch fire among moderates and independents. His campaign is running on fumes since his big Iowa surprise. But fumes won't propel him much further, especially as Newt remains the temporary favorite among hard-core conservatives. The former Pennsylvania Senator with the humiliating 18-point defeat in 2008 will soon be forced to join the Suspension Club and watch from the sidelines with Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann and Jon Huntsman Jr.
Which brings us back again to Mr. Improbable. It's hard to imagine a party nominating someone whom it seemingly despises. Someone so fake, so disingenuous, so elitist, so unable to connect with regular folk on any conceivable level. This guy's so stiff I could iron my shirts on him. He's flip-flopped so many times that Birkenstock should name a sandal after him. No one, especially Mitt himself, seems to have a clue what he truly believes in his core. And that's a disaster for a politician. Plus, he's a Mormon. Don't underestimate how big a problem this has already been for him. It just might be one big reason he can't break from 25%.
In their rapacious hunger for the nomination, Gingrich and Romney are ripping each other to shreds, putting each other on the defensive over wealth, scandal and electability. And they're creating the templates for Obama's eventual ads. To be sure, the Newt & Mitt Show is going to get even uglier by the minute. So ugly in fact that by the time someone is left standing in August, whoever the hell that is, he and the party will be so weak that Obama will have a cakewalk to re-election.
Is there a chance there will be no clear winner by August? Is there a possibility of a brokered convention? Will the party's leaders entice Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie or Paul Ryan to come to Tampa for a chance to grab the Oval Office keys? At this point, anything's possible.
Follow Andy Ostroy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AndyOstroy