The Romney train chugs on – next stop, South Carolina. A sizable chunk of the GOP doesn’t like this situation at all. If you add up all the poll numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire and any South Carolina poll, the problem asserts itself – despite his two wins, Romney still has more Republicans voting against him than for him. At some point, he has to break the 40% mark, because 40% of the GOP does not win a general election.
Fortunately for Romney, the main subparties that are holding out – evangelicals and Tea Partiers – can’t unite behind Gingrich or Santorum, much less Paul. The big winners if that narrative holds are Romney and Paul.
Paul didn’t withdraw until June in 2008 and I doubt he will do so any earlier this year. But maybe he won’t at all. His support has increased since 2008 – his polls trend only up, unlike each of the anti-Mitts (Cain, Perry, Gingrich) who spiked quickly and then fell just as fast – and he’s not running against McCain this time. He has a deadly weapon in his new arsenal of supporters – the threat of a third party run, which would almost certainly split the GOP/independent vote in the general election, much like Perot did in 1992 and again to a lesser extent in 1996. He has no reason to drop out and go third party right now, but circumstances are changing rapidly. If both Santorum and Gingrich drop out, I expect Paul’s numbers will only continue to rise.
There is always the possibility of a brokered convention, especially if Romney’s support remains flat. We haven’t had one in awhile. I wonder how many GOP rank and file hold out a secret hope that Romney could be un-anointed by convention ballot.