Well, this wasn't the plan.
The Republican race hasn't exactly followed any of the scripts laid out for it. His win in his home-state Michigan primary notwithstanding, Mitt Romney has been hacked apart like the Black Knight in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." John McCain's fortunes - which had been bouncing up and down like a printout of Dick Cheney's EKG - spiked northward after his victory in New Hampshire. Fred Thompson ran a brilliant "testing the waters" campaign from his front porch, but when he tried to walk on the water, he sank like a basset hound trying to swim. Pushing the poor beast under the waves was Mike Huckabee, whose down-home folksiness makes Thompson look like David Niven.
Huckabee's surprise surge in Iowa has made him this season's pitchfork populist, albeit a much nicer one - sort of a Disneyland Pat Buchanan. Then there's Ron Paul. He started out as the designated whack job, then became so successful that the Des Moines Register had to cast Alan Keyes in the role of hopeless firebrand wing nut for a brief campaign cameo. And it's a sign of how poorly Rudy Giuliani - once the indisputable front-runner - has done that I'm now mentioning him only after Paul.
Of course, this could all change with the next contest.
Much of this chaos is attributable to the fact that this is a very flawed field, or at least one ill-suited for the times we're in. If a camel is a horse designed by committee, then this year's Republican field looks downright dromedarian. This slate of candidates has everything a conservative designer could want - foreign policy oomph, business acumen, Southern charm, Big Apple chutzpah, religious conviction, outsider zeal, even libertarian ardor - but all so poorly distributed. As National Review put it in its editorial endorsement of Romney (I am undecided, for the record): "Each of the men running for the Republican nomination has strengths, and none has everything - all the traits, all the positions - we are looking for."
But conservatives should contemplate the possibility that the fault lies less in the stars - or the candidates - than in ourselves. Conservatism, quite simply, is a mess these days. Conservative attitudes are changing. Or, more accurately, the attitudes of people who call themselves conservatives are changing.