Despite the mania around Michele Bachmann, you can sense a new Washington conventional wisdom hardening around the idea that Mitt Romney is quite likely to be the 2012 Republican nominee. Even John Chait is reconsidering his insistence that Romney is a dead man walking. After all, Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman don’t seem to be catching on (though it’s still early for the former ambassador to China). And while it’s possible that Michele Bachmann is a sturdy enough candidate to win the nomination, smart Republicans are betting against it. As Adam noted on Thursday, Romney is already running against Obama, not the sundry cast of characters nipping at his heels.
Of course, during election season in particular, the conventional wisdom reliably proves wrong. It was at almost precisely this very point in the 2007 election cycle that John McCain’s primary campaign imploded, for instance, prompting Washington pundits to begin writing his political obituary. (I remember a dinner in New Hampshire with a reporter who planned to cover McCain’s events the next day solely because he thought the Senator might quit the race.) McCain’s example is a reminder that there’s still plenty of time for a Jon Huntsman, Tim Pawlenty or a Newt Gingrich to turn things around.
But consider also what’s not happening by now. In certain ways Mitt Romney is like the 2008 Hillary Clinton: He entered the race as his party’s presumptive nominee, with the most establishment backing and the most formidable fund-raising machine. A candidate like Pawlenty or Huntsman would like you to think of them as the Obamas of 2012, toppling a clumsy presumptuous giant. But by this point in 2007, Obama was already on fire. Exactly one year ago today, Obama gobsmacked the political world by announcing a second-quarter fundraising haul of $32.5 million, outdoing the Clinton juggernaut by several million bucks. I recall that personally as the moment where I realized all my assumptions about the Democratic primary had to be revised.
But as Republicans’ second-quarter numbers begin leaking out this weekend, no GOP candidate looks anything like Obama. Romney’s haul may prove less than what he’d once advertised, and will probably come in below the $23 million-plus he raised over the same period in 2007. But it still appears as though his bottom line will blow away those of his rivals. Though he admittedly had a late start, Jon Huntsman appears to have raised a paltry $2 million. Tim Pawlenty hasn’t released a figure yet, but everything we know–including reports that some of his top aides are working without pay, and that he may be having trouble paying other bills–says it won’t be pretty. Gingrich could surprise us, but given that several of his top fundraisers have quit on him, that seems unlikely.
All of which is great news for Romney. Sure, money isn’t everything. Howard Dean out raised John Kerry in 2004, and Romney had more money than McCain in 2008. But money is just one more thing Romney seems to have going for him right now. Unless something changes the dynamic of this race–and a savage, multi-candidate assault against his Massachusetts health care record could certainly suffice–it’s just possible that the conventional wisdom about his enduring strength will prove correct.