It was the one question in the Bloomberg-Washington Post debate that gave away the game. A source close to, but not in, the Bachmann campaign told me it was that question when he realized the game was over for Michele Bachmann. It was that one question that, according to a source close to the Perry camp and a source close to the Cain camp, raised a red flag for the Romney campaign and shows just how worried the Romney camp is about the race consolidating.It was that one question that also shows why the Romney campaign is, behind the scenes, furiously pushing states to move up their caucuses and primaries.That one question spoke louder to more people than all the other questions asked Tuesday night. And in that question lies Michele Bachmann's ultimate defeat and Mitt Romney's Achilles heel.Yes, one question did all that. Find out what that question was in this week's horserace.
It was the moment a source close to the Bachmann campaign and supportive of that campaign told me he knew, the minute it was asked, Bachmann's campaign is finished. He cautions that the campaign itself may not have had the "a-ha" moment he did, but that it will sink in.That question?During the candidate portion of the debate, Mitt Romney asked Michele Bachmann a question. It wasn't just any question — it was a softball question filled with mush to rehabilitate the Congresswoman's low standing in the polls. It was Mitt Romney's way of saying, "I need you to stay in this thing."The question:
Let me turn to Congresswoman Bachmann and just -- just as you, Congresswoman. As -- as we've spoken this evening, we're all concerned about getting Americans back to work. And you've laid out some pretty bold ideas with regards to taxation and cutting back the scale of the federal government. And there's no question that's a very important element of getting people back to work. And I'd like to ask you to expand on your other ideas. What do you do to help the American people get back to work, be able to make ends meet? You've got families that are sitting around the kitchen table wondering how they're going to make -- make it to the end of the month. You've got -- you've got young people coming out of college, maybe not here at Dartmouth, but a lot of colleges across the country wondering where they can get a job. What -- what would you do -- beyond the tax policies you describe -- to get people back to work?
That question said so much. The implication for the Bachmann campaign is clear. The Romney camp is calculating, accurately, that Michele Bachmann has no path to victory, but she can very clearly be a spoiler.The Bachmann campaign was pronounced dead with that question.
I did not see it coming and I did not expect it. Herman Cain is now in first place. For an upstart campaign low on cash and staff, it is an unenviable position with so much to envy.Cain is going to have to start answering tough questions. The more 999 is explored, the more it is clear the national sales tax portion is not viable. It will be an anchor on Cain. More so, he won't answer who his advisors are. That's actually probably because he does not have many to rely on. But because he will not answer the question, the media is going to keep hounding him.The Wall Street Journal/NBC poll gives the media every incentive they can to pick off Herman Cain. If his fundraising increases rapidly, he can hang on. If not, his fall benefits Newt Gingrich.
Already polling is showing a Gingrich rebound coupled with a Cain rebound from a strong debate performance. But Gingrich needs to improve his fundraising substantially. Without money and organization, he cannot win. The poll fluctuations show that voters prefer someone other than Romney and they will keep going through the candidates looking for someone. If Cain falls off, Gingrich is probably helped and, if he can start laying down a foundation now, he may be able to benefit.
If Jon Huntsman would stop telling bad jokes at debates maybe he could start rehabilitating himself. As of now, his polling keeps slowly creeping up, but he remains more a media fantasy than a real candidate.
Ron Paul will not be the nominee.
I realize this will get me locked in as a "Perry shill," but the more I think about this race, the more I think Rick Perry still has one of the clearest paths to victory.Look at the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll. Pretty much every bit of Perry's fall went to candidates not named Romney — in particular to Herman Cain.Of all the candidates not named Romney, Perry is the only one with (A) substantial cash on hand and (B) a continued ability to raise substantial sums from an existing network of donors.He has the largest staff in Iowa. He has not yet released his jobs plan, his energy plan, his foreign policy plan, etc. That means more exposure over the coming month in free media.Republican primary voters clearly do not want Mitt Romney and are judging alternatives. If Cain collapses again and Newt can't get traction, the odds are those votes rebound to Perry, not Romney. And with a compressed calendar, Perry remains the only non-Romney with the money to compete.Perry must (A) deal with the immigration issue effectively as that remains a serious sore spot with primary voters and (B) get people back into a comfort level with him — easier said than done. But if he can, he has the money to compete and Romney's question to Bachmann is a clear indicator the Romney campaign knows consolidation of the field is still possible and would work against Romney.
Take Romney's question to Michele Bachmann on Tuesday night, add to it the news that Romney advisors helped build Obamacare, and then throw in the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll and pretty much every other poll showing Romney has reached a ceiling of support among voters while voters vet alternatives.Sure, the establishment is ready to proceed to the general election. The "inevitability" bandwagon is on. Mitt Romney is the GOP's Hillary Clinton. The establishment wants the base to settle down and marry now. But the base is still flirting and showing no interest.Mitt Romney needs the field to stay crowded to win. Right now, Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann are serving only to bolster Romney's chances. If they drop out, they may embrace Romney, but the odds are their supporters do not.The conventional wisdom is that it is Romney's race to lose, but I wonder if the conventional wisdom might be wrong. If any consolidation starts happening, it will work against Romney. Just as Perry's fall helped Cain get ahead of Romney, any fall by Cain could see those voters go back to Perry (if he rebounds) or go to someone like Newt Gingrich. And yes, a failure to consolidate should help Romney, but look at what is happening. When the voters move their gaze from one candidate to another, that candidate not Romney suddenly takes the lead. He's the perpetual bridesmaid. If I were Romney, I'd be worried. And that he asked Michele Bachmann a question on Tuesday instead of any of the other candidates polling in double digits suggests he knows he needs to be worried and also knows he needs to keep the second and third tier candidates in the race as long as possible.
The Santorum-Cain exchange on Tuesday night was ridiculous. Santorum would not shut up, whined about a lack of questions, and then tried to rally the crowd against Herman Cain only to fail. I was embarrassed for him. He will not be the nominee.