Mitt is it

Election excitement has again gripped the blogosphere as talk of upsets, oustings and run-offs have dominated the Congressional primary coverage. Still, despite 2012 being a long way off, presidential elections are king when it comes to political excitement, and I have felt a nagging desire to tender my own prediction of what lies in store. Specifically, I have been reading polls and poring over historical comparisons to figure out who I think will be the next GOP nominee and the candidate to challenge President Obama.

I have come to this conclusion: Mitt is it.

I know it’s risky to make any prediction this far out, and I’ve been wrong before (actually, I predicted Mitt Romney would win last time, too), but I have a lot more reasons to back up my claim this time. First, there’s history. Unlike the Democratic Party (see Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean), the GOP almost always settles on the early front-runner. In fact, the outcomes have been so predictable that instead of trying to talk you through the historical play-by-play, I just slapped together this handy-dandy GOP presidential primary prediction flowchart:

This chart would have correctly predicted every GOP nominee since Dwight D. Eisenhower (with the only toss-up being the 2000 Bush v. McCain battle).

As you can see, this round we have to go all the way down to the last option (runner-up from the last primary) to find the anointed one. Mike Huckabee did rack up more delegates by staying in the primary longer, but Mitt Romney won a higher percent of the popular vote despite dropping out after Florida, and I think it’s clear that he was the real runner-up. Mitt certainly has some baggage (RomneyCare, cough, cough), but the establishment support he’s been building up, the fundraising advantage he has, his business clout, and the perception that he is more electable will all probably be enough to overcome those issues.

Now that brings us to Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. Oh, Palin. She’s supposed to be riding a wave that will turn history on its head, right? Well, the GOP is certainly going through a transition period and that could throw off my prediction (and possibly mark the end of an era), but Palin is more of a media sensation than a political sensation. Outside of the Fox News bubble, her support is not really that strong. She’s fallen from 3rd to 4th place in recent polling of Republican voters and even a plurality of Alaskans now say they wouldn’t vote for her.

Mike Huckabee or Newt Gingrich could more conceivably throw off my formula by tapping into the Tea Party sentiment. Huckabee still has very good, if not the best, favorability rankings of the potential candidates, and his populist support presaged the Tea Party uprising. Newt Gingrich has so much baggage he might consider hiring a rent boy to help him carry it, but I’m not ready to discount his shrewdness as a politician or reputation as a fighter. Then again, a dark horse candidate could emerge, like Tim Pawlenty. In the end though, unless the playing field drastically changes between now and then, my money’s on Mitt.