Michele Bachmann will be the GOP nominee.
Yeah, yeah—this could be wishful thinking. Bachmann would gift Obama a second term and would lead to another Democratic wave election in the House. And yeah, this assumes that Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin don't get into the race. But this is the age of Christine O'Donnell and Ken Buck. Republican primary voters don't give a damn about electability, but about casting a vote for the purest candidate.
Currently, there are three real candidates in the race—Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, and Mitt Romney. Newt Gingrich is history, Rick Santorum is yesterday's news, Ron Paul is a niche product, John Hunstman has six supporters, and Herman Cain exists only to allow Republicans to say, "Some of my best friends are black!"
Of the three credible candidates, Bachmann easily wins the purity test. Romney has been on the other side of pretty much every issue of current importance to Republicans, while Pawlenty supported the individual mandate. They're toast.
But it's not just policy substance. The early GOP nomination calendar clearly favors Bachmann.
We start off with the Iowa caucus on January 3. Now caucuses are tailor made for the most socially conservative candidates, as it is those activists who dominate these low-voter turnout affairs. In 2008, a banner year for caucus turnout, just 114,000 Republicans turned out. Currently, there are about 610K (PDF) registered Republicans in Iowa, out of 2.1 million registered voters in the state. In other words, a minority of a minority make the calls. And living in next-door Minnesota, Bachmann is about as local as you can get with that crowd of crazies. Iowa is hers.
Wyoming goes next on January 5, though the RNC has stripped it of half its delegates for moving ahead of New Hampshire, and will likely be ignored. So New Hampshire is next on January 8.
The Granite State will be Mittens territory. He's from next-door Massachusetts, and the state's GOP voters are less obsessed with the social issues that will dominate Iowa. In fact, if I'm the rest of the field, I concede New Hampshire to Romney and move on to ...
Michigan? Again, the state has tried to leapfrog the traditional early states, slotted itself into January 15, and again, it is being stripped of delegates. It was ignored in 2008 until Clinton won it by default, and she tried to pretend the victory was significant. The same might happen in 2012, but it won't matter. The parties are still (unfortunately) beholden to the unjustified monopoly of those traditional early states. So we go to...
South Carolina and Nevada. Both of these hold contests on January 19. The Nevada effort is caucuses, and Bachmann should do well in those. South Carolina is a primary, and they are also losing half their delegates for pushing its primary ahead of where the RNC wanted it (after February 5). But it's a traditional early state, and bound to be contested by all parties.
South Carolina, where social issues dominate, just elected Nikki Haley as governor, a Michele Bachmann clone. In 2008, McCain won the primary with 33 percent of the vote, while Huckabee notched a close second with 30 percent. Conservative voters today are far less tolerant of what they consider to be mushy Republicans than they were three years ago. The state is primed for a Bachmann-style candidate.
After South Carolina we have Florida, which is being penalized for moving itself up to January 29, and I have no idea how that state will play, or if it will even matter. Then on Super Tuesday, February 5, 21 states including California, New York, Illinois, and Georgia will dump hundreds of delegates into the race, possibly ending the race.
Will Bachmann have the juice to compete in this wide a field? Watch her early fundraising numbers. She's likely to raise more than the rest of the field. I bet she laps it.
So with Bachmann we have perhaps the best-funded candidate, with an early map that favors her brand of culture-war conservatism, and genuine street credibility with the teabagger types that will enable her to quickly build a national grassroots network.
So yeah, this runs counter to conventional wisdom, and I recognize that I'm out on one hell of limb, but I'm not seeing a path to the nomination for any of the other declared Republicans.