Well we’re back on the air after overcoming some "technical difficulties." (Let that be a lesson to you Crunchies; sometimes there are technical solutions to technical problems.)
Although no two polls from Iowa agree, it does seem that Romney is rebounding and Huck is slipping, at least among the most likely cacusers. The outcome is in doubt, but the big news will probably be that the overwhelming majority of the people of Iowa chose Huckabee or Romney. Right now it looks like the bronze medal will be given to someone (likely McCain) who finishes a distant third.
Things are looking better for McCain in New Hampshire, although apparently the famous independent vote there is leaning strongly toward Obama. He’s more "independent" of Bush than John, it seems.
All in all, many analysts seem to agree, as Peter indicates subtly below, that Giuliani, Thompson, and Huckabee have become very unlikely nominees. The real race, before even a single vote has been counted, may (may!) now be between Romney and McCain.
Although I was wrong on some obvious details, I was surely right to say that the Huck surge would benefit Mitt (as the socially conservative alternative to Huck) and John (as the authentic alternative to Huck). The Republican establishment, for no reason that makes any sense to me, persists in the shrill "anybody but Huck" mode. And that has produced the realization, as Peter suggests, that Giuliani and even McCain are insufficiently conservative. So there’s a lot of embracing, if not a lot of hearting, of Romney (see the three guys from Ohio Peter discusses below).
McCain, of course, operates best as an outsider and from behind. He clearly stunk as a front-runner and is back in business as a horse moving up from the outside. Will he stink again if he becomes a front-runner again? It’s time to take a hard look at the downsides of a McCain candidacy, just as we have a duty to continue to examine Romney critically and urge him to present himself more effectively. (Huck, too, flourished as an outsider and has been very tentative and mistake-prone as a frontrunner.)
The fact that John and Mitt are far from the best candidates ever suggests to me that Giuliani is not quite washed up yet. He could still surge in Florida and on Feb. 5. But I stand fast in my opinion that he would be the weakest of the Republican candidates.
One thing we can learn from the unexpected success of the Huckabee campaign is why Giuliani’s would fail either to energize the Republican base or appeal to the increasingly anxious members of the middle class.
The only candidates in my part of the world that have generated any enthusiasm are Huck and Ron Paul. Paul, we have to admit, is so authentic that he doesn’t worry about being authentic. In his own way, he’s the least demagogic candidate. He would, of course, be a terrible president.