Over at Post Partisan yesterday, I pointed out two oddities. One is the one I talk about all the time, which is that conservative leaders continue to talk about how Mitt Romney is not what they want, but they don't actually embrace Rick Santorum. The other is that Santorum, for some reason, is going along with the group decision to end the televised debates, even though it sure seems to be in his interest to have debates (and, barring that, to at least bash Romney for it). I speculate that perhaps they all know that it's over.
The idea that I'm working towards is of an "immaculate nomination." What if the normal process involves high profile party actors using endorsements as a signal to everyone of what the party has decided -- but under current conditions, many party politicians are terrified that endorsing the candidate they've chosen might backfire? Normally, no one is going to be punished by constituents for something as obscure as a presidential endorsement, but that's probably not how most Republican politicians are thinking about it these days. So they're pretty reluctant to endorse Mitt Romney, and (in part) therefore, Republican voters aren't told that he's conservative enough, and so it's harder for him to win.
And yet the actual decision-making process was wrapped up long ago, perhaps (I suspect) about the time that Rick Perry got to that third department he wanted to cut. Specifically, my guess is that virtually everyone, no matter how conservative, prefers Romney to Santorum, probably because they're afraid of a bloodbath with Santorum. It's just that given a choice between Romney winning it in June without their visible help and winning it in February or March with it, they'll pick June.
By the way, this may even apply to Republican party actors who are not politicians. Could the leaders of GOP-aligned interest groups get in trouble for supporting a (perceived) RINO? I don't know. The real question, however, is -- could such leaders believe that supporting a RINO would put them at risk?
If Romney was in danger, then all those who support him but don't want to say so publicly would swing into action. Certainly that's what happened during the Newt surges. Of course, that could have been dislike of the former Speaker and not stealth support for Romney.
I underline: this is all speculative. But it's my guess about what's happening right now.