To follow up on the previous item...I've been saying throughout that there's no precedent for the Republicans nominating anyone from the list of candidates who either hold (within the GOP) fringe policy positions, or do not have conventional qualifications, or appear to be disliked and mistrusted by elite Republicans, or some combination of all of that. The list currently has ten names, in no particular order: Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Roy Moore, Buddy Roemer, Gary Johnson, Ron Paul, John Huntsman, Donald Trump, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, and John Bolton.
I'm not going to change my tune...but I will break it down a bit more, now that we're down to two active candidates other than these ten. The most likely scenario, by far, is still that either Romney or Pawlenty will win, or Palin, Huck, or Daniels will win, or even perhaps Rick Perry or Jeb Bush will win. I'd still put that at over 90%. What I think is happening is that the field is just winnowing down earlier than usual, for whatever reason.
Still, it's not entirely impossible to imagine a far-fetched string of circumstances that winds up with one of the ten winning after all. Let me check that...I'd say that Newt, Bachmann, Hunstman, and Santorum are at least plausible implausible nominees...the rest are even more unlikely.
What would it take?
First step: no one else gets in. It's just the Mittster, Pawlenty, and these ten.
Second step: one of them finishes second or first in Iowa. Not impossible! After all, I'm already assuming a situation in which one of them has to run third.
Third step: either Romney or Pawlenty then drops out, either right away or after finishing third or worse in New Hampshire.
Fourth step: the remaining plausible candidate has something go drastically wrong. Either a personal scandal, or horrible gaffe that offends movements conservatives in just the right way...something like that.
And, presto! The GOP is stuck with a nominee who will give away 5-10 points beyond the fundamentals.
Now, I know what you're thinking: what about an alternate scenario in which a Bachmann or a Newt hangs on until the winner-takes-all states, and then the crazy vote defeats the sane vote, which is split multiple ways (or at least two ways, between Romney and Pawlenty)? I don't find that one even remotely plausible. GOP elites would swiftly move in and push one of them out before the damage is done.
No, the only way that it's going to happen is if one of these candidates quickly goes into one-on-one with a presumed nominee, who then un-presumes himself or herself. Even then, it's possible that Republicans would find a way to avoid the grim results, depending on when it happens and what happens. But that's how it could play out.