It's useful to compare this year Republican primary with the one 4 years ago as a template, because in all GOP primaries, there are key groups and constituencies. 4 years ago, there never emerged a consensus conservative candidate, and as a result, we got a 'maverick'. What about 2012?
Mitt Romney is this year's McCain, the 'establishment' candidate. The moderates and establishment are always flocking to the 'electable' guy, which to them means the one with the least sharp-elbow conservative positions. So we get the grassroots vs establishment tug of war. Even though his agenda is no much different, Mitt's position and base of support has shifted from 2008. We as a party want a more conservative candidate. Many of us conservatives who were interested in Romney in 2008 have a 'no sale' sign out for Mr Romneycare, while moderates have him ... or Huntsman. No wonder Romney leads among moderates.
Rick Perry is this year's Mitt Romney. In 2008, Mitt tried the 'check box' approach but couldn't close the sale as a convincing conservative. Rick Perry, other than his party-switching past (shades of ex-Democrat Reagan?), has all the prolife progun pro-10thA fiscal conservative social conservative boxes checked. He has a better shot at convincing people he's a real conservative than Mitt can, thanks to 10 years of fiscal conservatism and a much more conservative state to hail from, but he's had to navigate between some uber-conservative red meat statements ("ponzi scheme") that might cause general election trouble, and his soft / non-conservative immigration policy. But his most serious lack is the 'where's the beef?' on his plans, one that is more visible when running against the wonkish Gingrich, Mr 9-9-9 Cain and "I have an 80page economic plan" Romney.
Herman Cain is this year's Mike Huckabee. He beat out the self-imploding Michele Bachmann for the Tea Party seed to get to where he is, which is now top tier. He's the conservative 'heart and soul' candidate, the long shot who is actually expressing eloquently what needs to be said (except when he makes a gaffe). He has an opening because Rick Perry's poor debate performances and immigration position are causing some conservative / Tea Party second guessing.
Sarah Palin is this year's Fred Thompson. Some long for her entry, but if she had the fire in belly to run ... she'd be in there by now. Either she doesn't run or the year's biggest fizzle campaign would ensue. (No, just because other conservatives are imperfect stumblebums doesnt mean she will save the day. Once she's in a debate, it will be obvious that her generic conservative statements are EXACTLY what 5 or 6 other candidates are saying.)
Michelle Bachmann blew her chance by over-reaching on Gardasil and is now the Duncan Hunter of the 2012 race.
Rick Santorum is the Sam Brownback of the race. Who was that? Exactly.
Ron Paul is this year's Ron Paul. Irreplaceable! Although Gary Johnson is trying, he's failing, and Gary Johnson is the Dennis Kucinich. One wonders if he and Huntsman even belong in this party's primary.
Jon Huntsman is the wannabe McCain, but can't even rate being this year's Rudy. He's not gotten important enough to even flop. He should run against Obama as a Democrat.
Newt Gingrich also is irreplaceable, and I am glad he is running; almost as the adult in the room when the rest of the field falls for the media traps, he has consistently put it back on the media during debates. My only comment is that he should have run in 2008 because there was no equivalent back then and we needed that.
If this race goes the way 2008 went, Perry/Cain split and Romney wins. OTOH, a race more like 2000 where Bush ran as the bit-more-conservative than McCain, ie a Perry v Romney 1on1, Perry wins. The ball is in Perry's court to make it a 2000 like race. If he steps up his game, gets more 'right' on immigration, get serious solid wonky plans for conservative governance, he wins. If Perry doesnt put it together, Cain can win if he keeps the gaffe factor down; his positions, plans and values are just what the primary voters want. If neither of the above happen, Romney wins, and we rationalize it by saying, correctly that ...
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN 2012 IS DEFEATING OBAMA.