Wargaming The Caucuses

Written by David Frum on Tuesday January 3, 2012

Result 1:

Romney wins, Santorum second, Paul third, Gingrich fourth, Perry fifth.

This is the result indicated by last day's polling. If it eventuates, this will be a very short nominating contest. Romney will proceed to win in New Hampshire. Perry and Gingrich will try to make a last stand in South Carolina. Unless one or the other wins outright, their money will dry up after three consecutive losses. Santorum and Paul may remain in the race, but it will essentially be ballgame over by the time of the Florida primary on January 31st.

Result 2:

Santorum wins, Romney second, Paul third.

This is the result the press here is sort of hoping for, not because they like Santorum so much, but because they like campaigning--and nobody has campaigned harder than Santorum. Result 2 leads to the same outcome as Result 1. Santorum will not become a front-runner any more than Mike Huckabee did in 2008, and for the same reason: there is no funding base for Santorum-style religious conservatism, and he won't travel well to New Hampshire the next week.

Result 3:

Paul wins, Santorum second, Romney third.

This is a result that causes a commotion, as much because of the revealed Romney weakness as because of the Paul upset. To calm the shock, Romney would have to score big in both New Hampshire and South Carolina. On the other hand--that's probably just what he would do. Because however you game this thing tonight, the basic logic of the campaign remains fixed:

There is no path to the nomination for Ron Paul or Rick Santorum. There might have been such a path for Rick Perry--or even very very possibly Newt Gingrich--but the entrance to that path is now blocked. That leaves Romney sooner or later. Tonight's vote will settle the timing, not the outcome.