It's a turning point on the campaign trail. No one has knocked Herman Cain from his perch yet, but there is a growing consensus among both Democrat and Republican consultants that this is still a race between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry.Why aren't they taking Herman Cain seriously? Why is this a Romney v. Perry race? And what about Michele Bachman? Intentional or not, she seems ready to embrace the role of spoiler for Mitt Romney.Conservatives are starting to get antsy. Consolidation of the field is not happening. And things are starting to get ugly. Will Newt be the next guy to try to consolidate the field? We'll get into it all in this week's Horserace.
Michele Bachmann is stuck. Out of money and mostly out of time, she has to do something and it seems more and more what she has decided is to play the spoiler for Mitt Romney and hope he pays off her campaign debts like he did for Tim Pawlenty. At least a lot of conservatives are whispering that to each other solely by being perplexed by these last two debates.Two debates ago, Bachmann got a super softball question from Mitt Romney designed to give her a lifeline, keep her in the race, and prevent consolidation.In this week's CNN debate, Bachmann returned the favor. As Santorum, Perry, and Gingrich were piling up on Romney, Michele Bachmann jumps in, redirects the conversation to Obamacare, and shut down the one attack on Mitt Romney conservatives have finally been gearing up for. Intentional or not, the number of angry emails fired off between conservatives that night over Bachmann's redirect does not help her.I don't see a path to victory for her right now. Her staying in the race keeps consolidation from happening against Romney, which is why he wants her in.
In the lead and in the spotlight, Herman continues to shine as the most optimist candidate, but there is trouble on the horizon. Neither Democrat nor Republican consultants bank on Herman winning. Why? He has no operational structure in Florida, Iowa, or pretty much anywhere else and has only three months to get a well oiled machine in place. He's running a national campaign convinced that his charisma, energy, and message will get people out in the early states as he builds momentum. Conventional wisdom holds that such a strategy does not work. But then Herman has been defying conventional wisdom.Last night, on Piers Morgan, Herman gave a muddled message on abortion issues that, before sun up, had spread far and wide among pro-life groups, many of which were gearing up to rally to him. Look, I know Herman is pro-life. And I don't doubt his conviction. But that's because I know him personally. I also know at least one pro-life group by mid-morning this morning was in serious conversation about his statements last night and they want some clarity consistent with a statement he gave earlier in the week.Here is the media narrative shaping up on Herman. He is going to have to avoid playing to it in the way Michele Bachmann played straight into the "diva" narrative the media set for her. The narrative is that Herman wants it both ways. He says X and then says Y and then, when pressed, says he misunderstood, is not afraid to say he did not know, or tries to reconcile the positions. He's going to have to be clearer and more decisive to hold on to a lead many think he can't.
Gingrich may be starting to see a path to victory. I am starting to see one for him, but it depends on taking out Herman Cain. Voters are starting to flirt with Newt. As Herman's image gets tarnished a bit over 999 and now this abortion matter, conservative voters are taking another look at Newt. They'll either go to him or probably back to Perry if Perry's reboot goes well.Newt, in fact, does not have to directly take on Herman by attacking Herman. He can just contrast himself brightly. Voters are going to take a look as they become skittish of a national sales tax.But Newt is not raising the money to pave a path to victory and it could be all for nothing.
Ron Paul will not be the nominee.
Perry's debate performance keeps him in the game, but Mitt overplaying his hand post debate by pushing out the "Perry is angry" stuff and the "Perry is stupid" video helped Perry more than anything. He's getting a second bite at the apple. He cannot afford to screw up again with a bad debate performance. The Romney guns are coming fast because Perry is the only guy with the ground organization and money to compete against Romney. The Romney team knows that if consolidation happens, it will be to Perry's advantage unless they can take him out early.Perry will unveil his flat tax proposal very, very soon. I've seen a preview. It is a beautiful tax plan that brings simplification to a disastrous system and is not regressive. But the question remains, can Perry sell his plan?
Mitt Romney is still the front runner. Why not just use the polls and say it is Herman? Because Mitt Romney has the money, team, and game to win this thing if consolidation does not happen. And Team Romney knows it.But I wonder if the Romney campaign's overreaction to last night's debate was their tell that they know they have real problems. Romney bled after last night. His unforced errors are already showing up in the media and his opponents' media.And now the others know how to throw him off his game. Gang up on Romney and he not only lashes out, but he also swallows his foot. The CNN debate could, long term, keep doing damage to Romney. For now at least, it keeps GOP primary voters from settling for Romney. The inevitability meme his campaign has been generating just isn't working right now. Conservative voters do not trust him.
Santorum will not be the nominee.