So has Mitt Romney wrapped up the nomination?
I've been saying forever that Romney and Rick Perry are the only viable candidates, but it's getting harder and harder to imagine Perry rebounding. Jonathan Chait has a typical (and fun) version of the "Perry's toast" take on the debates. Nate Silver, however, has a somewhat more measured approach, concluding that Intrade's current 5% or so odds for Perry sound about right.
The case again Perry still being viable is obvious: party actors aren't going to invest in a campaign that's spiraling down or a candidate who just guaranteed he'll be a national laughingstock for a while, at least.
The case for him?
He seems to be handling the gaffe in good cheer, hitting the morning shows and planning a visit to Letterman tonight. Could that possibly earn him a bit of sympathy? It's also, don't forget, a ton of publicity for a candidacy that was starting to have difficulty breaking through the assumption that he was old news only (ask Michele Bachmann about how easy that is to get), and that's outside of the frenzy about Herman Cain's (alleged) misbehavior, a frenzy unlikely to go away soon. Can he find a way to take advantage?
(By the way, note that one of the reasons Cain's head-to-head polling numbers haven't tanked in the last week could easily be that in a race in which most voters aren't yet engaged, the massive publicity for Cain mean that he may be the only candidate some voters have actually heard of. I'd pay more attention to the favorable/unfavorable ratings).
Beyond that, the logic for Perry remains, really, the same as it's ever been: if you assume as I do that Cain, Gingrich, Bachmann, Santorum, Paul, and Huntsman are not going to win because they don't fit into the group of candidates with conventional qualifications who are in the party's mainstream on policy, then you are left with Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. And if that's the case, then Perry has to absorb whatever percentage of the chance to win that Romney doesn't take. I don't know what that is -- Romney has clearly moved into the lead -- but whatever it is, that's Perry's chance.
Unless, of course, I'm wrong about Cain, Newt, et al. That's what Ed Kilgore argues in a new (pre-debate, for what its worth) TNR piece. I continue to disagree, but go ahead and read the case he makes. I just don't buy it -- and I'll note that while Kilgore says we should "follow the lead of Republican voters," the truth is that those voters haven't said anything yet and won't until January. All we have so far is polls which may just be showing name recognition and recent publicity. So perhaps he's right that the usual rules won't work, but then again it's also fairly likely that the usual rules are working just fine, and they delivered a contest that Mitt Romney has won, or almost won.
At any rate: I'll stick with my usual belief that there's upwards of 90%, and probably upwards of 95%, chance that a candidate with conventional credentials who holds mainstream conservative views will win the nomination, and that given who is running now that means either Romney or Perry. I've never made any prediction between them, but I have no reason to doubt the consensus that Romney has (at least) a solid lead in that race. Beyond that, I don't know, so I'm not going to venture any guesses.