Rick Perry, with Romney as the only other plausible choice.
If the Republicans wouldn't care about electability, Bachman could beat Romney. But since they probably do care, it's either Romney beating Bachman (if there's no credible compromise candidate) or the compromise candidate (probably Perry, if he's credible by then) could beat Romney.Huntsman only has chances if Romney seriously misplays his cards, and Huntsman can replace him as the electable champion of moderates, and if his main opponent is Bachmann.
I think Romney is the most likely candidate, but I think the primary is open enough that saying "I think Romney will be the Republican nominee in 2012" is premature.
Rick Perry, by default
Rick Perry. Romney if Perry doesn't get in or fizzles.
Pawlenty, as someone acceptable to both mainstream Republicans and Tea Partiers. Not sure if Perry will even run.The trouble with Romney is that a lot of Republicans don't like him. Maybe they'll fall in line like they did with McCain, but conservatives are feistier this time around. Among Republican primary voters, and the people that matter to them, does Romney really have fewer enemies than someone like Bachmann?
I'm going to say Rick Perry as well. Governors win nominations far more often than members of Congress and they should have an especially big advantage in this environment. It seems like few in the GOP really like Romney so once there's a plausible alternative his bubble should burst quickly under the weight of all his flaws (Mormon, health care, global warming, flip flops). Perry makes a better plausible alternative than Pawlenty. A southern governor who flirts with nullification and secession is more in tune with the median GOP primary voter than a generic conservative blue state governor.
I actually think it is going to be Bachmann.Most every Republican I talk to seems to think that Obama is such a self-evident stone-cold idiot that they could run a box of rocks against him and win next year. I don't think the question of electibility is going to matter to them in the slightest.She is a much more polished version of Palin. She scratches all of the Republican's itches, and generates some starbursts for the Lowry's of the world. And she gets the best front-runner possible in Romney, who is still hamstrung by having passed Obamacare before Obama. Finally, she has the grassroots fundraising ability that can take on the traditional elites, reminiscent of Obama versus Clinton.She will have to follow winning in Iowa with a win in South Carolina, which is probably a tougher call. But if she can win both of those, I think she will win the nomination.
Rick Perry. Presentable enough for the establishment. Crazy enough for the tea party. Throw in Texas fundraising and Romney's inconsistency, you've got yourself the most plausible 2012 nominee.
Romney should be able to pick up enough delegates in the more moderate blue urban/suburban states with big populations- (ie CA, NY, IL, OH, FL etc) to overcome the dismal sub 30% of R primary votes he'll get in the reddest states. I don't see more than 20% of primary votes in Alabama going for an overeducated east coast blue blood, but it shouldn't matter because there are comparatively fewer delegates at stake there. If Huntsman catches any momentum-- he could be a big problem for Romney. Every vote he gets is a vote Romney loses. Could Huntsman steal 20-30% of would-be Romney votes?Perry is the wild card. He can definitely eclipse Bachman in her demographic, but can he appeal enough to the suburban moderates to beat Romney?
I don't see Bachmann having sufficient money muscle to make a dent. She's done very well for a House member but she's stepping up into a whole new ballgame.
I think that it will be Bachmann, and for analysis, I totally agree with precisely what "Curtis" wrote.
Romney though I reserve the right to change my mind at any time.
If Perry gets in I think he'll run away with it. Not because he's a great candidate, but because dissatisfaction with the current field is so high on the right that if a supposed heavy hitter stepped in that they just wont think twice about it and take Perry at his reputation.If Perry doesn't get in, I think Bachmann has a real chance because of how strong the anti-Romney sentiment is and because Romney's entire campaign hinges on him solidly winning NH after someone else (likely Bachmann) wins Iowa. It just doesn't seem like a winning strategy to me.
At The Washington Post
At The American Prospect