Seth Masket has a good catch today -- that hardly any of the GOP superdelegates have declared for a candidate yet (yes, Republicans have automatic delegates too, although not as many as the Democrats have). As he says, that's consistent with all the other measures we've had. The superdelegate breakdown? 12 for Mitt, 3, for Perry, 1 for Santorum, and the other 89% still uncommitted.
I'm not sure I agree with Seth that all of that means that Perry is still the most likely other option if Romney winds up not winning it. Here's the problem. On the one hand, no one has ever done anything similar to what Perry will have done in Iowa and New Hampshire and then wound up coming anywhere close to the nomination. On the other hand, no one with the credentials of Gingrich, Santorum, Huntsman, or Paul has ever come anywhere close to it, either.
Which might just mean, and probably does, that Romney is going to win the nomination.
But still...why are party actors so slow to climb on board a train that certainly seems to be going places?
I think there are two possible answers. One is that they really don't want to nominate Romney, and are just waiting until they find out who the real conservative champion is going to be. If that's the case, what matters a lot is just how much they don't want to nominate him. Enough to fight hard against heavy odds? Enough to overlook flaws in whoever they settle on to support? Or just enough to wait it out and hope something will happen to the former Massachusetts governor?
But there's another strong possibility: this is much more about fear of Tea Party wrath than it is about reluctance to support Romney. That's true for politicians, but it could also be true for formal party officials (who could get bounced by angry conservatives if they get blamed for Romney), and even for some interest group leaders. If this is what's going on, then a lot of Republican actors may be thinking that they don't really have to worry very much about the Cains and the Bachmanns and the Pauls actually winning the nomination, given what lousy candidates they are, and so just sitting back and hoping Romney can wrap it up more-or-less on his own is the best strategy. This one, too, can come in various shades of intensity: we could have some who are strongly pro-Romney but afraid to say it, while others could be mildly pro-Romney and therefore quiet if they even have a hint of worry over a public endorsement.
So which of these two is it? I have no idea! But my guess is that the latter seems at least a bit more likely than the former. It's possible that there are some out there who are intensely anti-Romney but foolishly froze, waiting for the best alternative, but it seems much more likely that someone in that group would have declared for another candidate. But I don't really know. I can say one thing. If there was anyone in Group 1 (true anti-Romney) waiting to see who emerged from Iowa...well, I can understand why such people would wait another week, because if they were considering Santorum he was more likely to need the boost after New Hampshire than before it (when endorsements would perhaps get lost in the shuffle). But time is about to be up: if they're going to try to swing the party behind Santorum (or even Perry, or even --although I can't believe they would do this -- Huntsman), the time to get started on that is this week, in order to help that candidate next Saturday in South Carolina. Wait any longer, and Mitt Romney is probably going to win by default.
And if it's the second possibility -- they're just fine with Romney, but don't want to say so? Don't be surprised to see people from that group endorse Santorum (or Perry or Gingrich) after South Carolina, or even after Florida, once it's too late to matter. No one wants to have the party's nominee upset with them...but it's possible that they're even less eager to be labled RINOs for backing Romney, at least just now. There's still plenty of time to make nice-nice after the nomination is formally decided, and while I hate to suggest that things aren't always as they appear to be on the surface, it's possible that Romney wouldn't be too upset about an endorsement that he knew was just for show.
Again, I don't really know who fits into which of these groups, and where within those groups they fit (i.e. somewhat vs. strongly anti-Romney). And mostly, we won't get to know. But I think that might explain at least some of what's going on right now.