My bet is that Mitt Romney wins the nomination, and at the moment, barring a substantial economic recovery, I'd give him better than even odds of winning the election as well. I suspect that Mr Romney is an empty shell without a soul, but he's a pretty smart empty shell without a soul, and I don't really subscribe to the idea that a candidate needs a deep core of authenticity in order to be a successful political official. Within the category "Republican politicians", the fact that Mr Romney apparently lacks any firm ideological convictions seems to me a blessing rather than a curse. A Romney presidency would be unlikely to feature the spectacle of Congress threatening to destroy America's AAA credit rating in order to score political points, and my guess is that it would make Barack Obama's health-care reforms permanent, with some sort of fig-leaf adjustments that would allow Mr Romney to claim he had undone the hated ObamaCare and replaced it with a Republican alternative that is substantially the same.
I'm left wondering, however, what happens to the tea-party constituency in a scenario in which Mr Romney wins the nomination. As I've said before, I have no instinctive understanding of what tea-party supporters think about anything; their worldview makes no sense to me. But going by what I see on their websites, most of them (though by no means all) seem to be currently convulsed in hatred for the orgy of RINOness that Mr Romney represents. Can they reconcile themselves to voting for him? My guess would be yes, easily. If Mr Romney becomes a serious challenger to Mr Obama, people who today consider themselves irrevocably opposed to both RomneyCare and to Mr Romney's weaselly attempts to distinguish it from the president's reforms will figure out some plausible-to-themselves arguments for supporting him after all. Partisanship is far and away the most powerful force in America politics, trumping all other substantive or ideological concerns.I tend to think Romney will ultimately capture the GOP nod as well. I know folks like Texas Governor Rick Perry and Congresswoman Michelle Bachman are getting attention, but if Obama is as vulnerable as some think he is, then I see the party putting forward someone that has a shot at winning, not someone that can make the die-hard conservatives swoon.
Would this be the end of the Tea Party? I wouldn't say as much that this the end of it as much as it becomes marginalized. This is par for the course in American politics. The far left of the Democratic Party is usually contained so as to not cause too much trouble. Let them out enough to get some attention, but don't let them run the whole show. I think that come 2012 the GOP will find a way to co-opt the Tea Party- adopting some of its demands- but find a way to fence them in and nominate a candidate that could actually do something in office.