The 2012 Republican presidential primary campaign has been the most volatile and least predictable campaign in my lifetime. In spite of this, I see several potential scenarios in the early states, all subject to change at any moment.
We are now less than three weeks from the Iowa Caucuses and there are (thankfully) no more televised debates. This campaign is now being waged over the air and on the ground, in the homes, coffee shops, diners and community centers of Iowa.
How will it go?
One of four ways:
1) Chaos Theory – There is a very real chance that libertarian Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) wins Iowa with between 22 and 28 percent. Nothing will shake up the race more than this outcome. If this happens, it virtually ensures that Paul remains in the race throughout the entire primary, picking up delegates and raising millions to spend across many states. He will not win many states (maybe only Iowa), but with the new proportional delegate system, he will likely finish second or third in delegates when it’s all said and done. Politico’s Ben Smith recently predicted that he could envision a future where Ron Paul’s delegates could tip the balance at a brokered convention. Who benefits from a Ron Paul boomlet? Most likely Romney as Paul’s success will scare conservatives and the GOP establishment alike. Although it may also force the consolidation of conservatives behind another, non-Paul, non-Romney candidate.
2) Newt Theory – A historian by trade, Newt has always fancied himself as an historical figure. His prophecy just may become self-fulfilling. His strong debate performances allowed him to come back, and as Herman Cain flamed out Gingrich was the primary beneficiary, rocketing to first place. The resulting attacks that he has sustained (and not responded to) have now stalled his momentum. Newt is not running a traditional campaign – in fact he refuses to. However, he recently hired three respected senior strategists on his bid: David Winston, Kellyanne (Conway) Fitzpatrick and Rex Elsass. His organization is seriously lacking, as he opened his first Iowa office in early December, but should the power of his confidence, communication strengths, and history as a conservative leader result in a significant win in Iowa, the field will narrow, resulting in the Romney nightmare scenario: a two man race. Romney’s Super PAC is attacking Newt, as is Ron Paul’s campaign, in paid media. They both see him as a threat, reaffirming his status as the lead dog, although recent polling shows that he his standing is on a downward trajectory.