Does Mitt Romney have the GOP presidential nomination wrapped up?

One by one, Mitt Romney's GOP rivals have taken runs at him, trumpeting his failures as a true conservative and his flip-flopping. But one by one, they’ve stumbled, and at the moment the race for the GOP nomination seems like Romney’s to lose.

By , Staff writer

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    Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during an economic roundtable at the Treynor State Bank Thursday in Treynor, Iowa.
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It’s looking more and more like Mitt Romney has the Republican presidential nomination in the bag.

One by one, his declared GOP rivals have taken runs at him, trumpeting his failures as a true conservative (see “Romneycare” with its dreaded individual mandate when he was governor of Massachusetts) and his flip-flopping on such issues as abortion, climate change, and the auto industry bailout (see http://mittromneyflipflops.com/).

Sometimes they’ve gotten him hot under his normally well-starched collar, as Rick Perry did on immigration in last week’s debate when he accused Romney of the “height of hypocrisy” – a charge you might think would be reserved for something a little more important than who a lawn care contractor hired.

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But one by one, they’ve stumbled – Perry on immigration himself, his family’s hunting camp with its racist name, and a prominent evangelical supporter’s slur about Romney’s Mormon religion; Herman Cain’s own flip-flopping on abortion, the holes in his “9-9-9” economic plan, and an apparent lack of knowledge on foreign affairs.

Cain jokes about being "the flavor of the month" (he identifies with Haagen-Dazs Black Walnut). But there’s truth to the ice cream imagery, especially the tendency to melt. Ask Michele Bachmann, once thought to be the tea party favorite – until Perry and then Cain rose in the polling charts, knocking her down to single digits.

Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman? Still yet to make much of a mark in national polling or even state organization straw polls.

Libertarian Ron Paul always will be a special case, and he can do well in straw polls – especially when organized bunches of his enthusiastic followers show up to vote. But really, try to imagine a Republican presidential candidate these days who would not support a constitutional ban on abortion, who would cut defense spending by nearly a billion dollars, or who would end all US aid to Israel. Hard, isn’t it?

(“Typical mainstream media view!” I hear Paul supporters crying. Guilty as charged.)

Another mainstream media lackey – New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat, author of "Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream" – says “Romney’s path to the nomination is more wide open than for any nonincumbent in decades.”

“He should win New Hampshire and Nevada, Florida and Michigan. He should dominate the Rust Belt, the Northeast and the Mountain West. And if need be, he can seal the nomination late, with wins in the New York and California primaries,” Douthat writes in the Times’ Sunday Review.

“None of his rivals look capable of even pushing the race that far,” Douthat continues. “They don’t have the money or the organizational muscle, but more important they aren’t clearing the first hurdle that every presidential candidate faces. After months of campaigning, it is nearly impossible to imagine any of them as a major party’s nominee, much less in the White House.”

Douthat acknowledges what he calls counterexamples: Very conservative Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964 and very liberal Democrat George McGovern in 1972.

“Goldwater and McGovern, for all their weaknesses, were far more credible nominees than a Perry, a Herman Cain, a Michele Bachmann, a Newt Gingrich,” Douthat writes. “They were too extreme to win the general election, but they were not political novices or washed-up self-promoters, and they had a mix of eloquence and experience that’s largely absent from the current Republican field.”

At the moment, Romney and Cain are duking it out for the top spot in many public opinion surveys. They’re virtually tied in the Real Clear Politics average of presidential nomination polls.

But according to the latest Gallup analysis, Romney is competitive with his rivals among conservative Republicans and ahead among moderates. By region, he leads in the East and the West with Cain slightly ahead in the Midwest and ahead by a wider margin in the South. It could be significant that Romney is favored by a plurality of older Republicans, “a pattern that could benefit him in the primaries next year if it holds, given older Americans' greater propensity to vote,” according to Gallup.

So it’s far from over yet, and there may be unknown turns, stumbles, and perhaps even genuine scandals to upset the current trend. (At least those of us gainfully employed to write about it hope so.)

But at the moment, the race for the GOP nomination sure seems like Romney’s to lose.

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