With Mitt Romney poised to make history by becoming the first non-incumbent Republican presidential hopeful to win both the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, he's also "a prohibitive favorite to become the party's nominee," says Paul West in the Los Angeles Times. The party's conservative wing seems unable to unite behind a single insurgent, and many GOP elites are pushing for a "clean and quick" Romney coronation, says Politico's Jonathan Martin. Of course, the anti-Romney forces haven't given up yet. But assuming that Romney is indeed the inevitable nominee — a rare point of agreement between the Romney camp and Obama's re-election team — how quickly can he seal the deal? Here, five theories:
1. Romney will wrap it up in New Hampshire on Tuesday
The top goal of the Romney camp is "to end the fight fast with a crushing display of force in New Hampshire that prevents any of his rivals from gaining more momentum in tougher states like South Carolina and Florida," says Benjy Sarlin at Talking Points Memo. And that's certainly plausible, given Romney's commanding, double-digit lead in the polls. "New Hampshire is that state that will catapult him to victory in a very short period of time," said 2008 New Hampshire winner Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in his Romney endorsement speech on Wednesday.
2. South Carolina will be the decisive primary
Forget New Hampshire, says Reid Wilson at National Journal. South Carolina's Jan. 21 primary is where "Republicans will decide how quickly and how easily Mitt Romney will lock up the Republican presidential nomination." The conservative Palmetto State is the anti-Romneys' final shot to unite and block Romney's coronation, and so far "they are doing everything possible to squander their last remaining opportunity." There's a reason "people call South Carolina the 'firewall' state for frontrunners," says Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast. Romney has South Carolina's Republican establishment on his side, including Gov. Nikki Haley, and they will all work hard to preserve the state's decades-long 8-0 track record of picking the eventual GOP nominee.
3. He'll seal the deal no later than Super Tuesday
After winning Iowa, then New Hampshire, Romney is practically guaranteed to "wrap it up fairly quickly," with "no muss, no fuss, and — carve this one in stone — no brokered convention," says David Morris at The Kiplinger Letter. The race may not be officially over by Florida's Jan. 31 primary, but "by the time Super Tuesday rolls around" on March 6, "his campaign's superb organizational skills and his unflappable manner will leave his challengers in the dust." The only real drama left in the race: "Who Romney chooses as his running mate." My guess? Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
4. This will go all the way to the GOP convention
Hold your horses, says The Economist. The GOP's new proportional delegate system and attenuated primary schedule "makes it impossible for any candidate to clinch the nomination before April — which leaves plenty of time for more surprises." And there are bound to be some candidates who "resist accepting the inevitable for as long as their money keeps coming in and Romney doesn't have enough delegates to officially declare victory," says Bruce Bartlett at The Fiscal Times. "Evangelicals will keep [Rick] Santorum alive until the convention" in August, at the least, so "it ain't over till it's over." Keeping that in mind, says Ana Marie Cox in Britain's Guardian, I'm not even sure I'd call Romney "inevitable."
5. Romney has already wrapped up the nomination
Everybody but Team Romney has a stake in "desperately" pretending there's still a race for the GOP nomination after Iowa, says Jacob Weisberg at Slate. "Do not pay attention." Democrats may want to run against someone else, 75 percent of Republicans might want to nominate someone else, and the media is strongly rooting for a drawn-out primary fight. But the race is over. "The GOP is overwhelmingly likely to nominate Romney because he is the most electable candidate available and at this point, no one else can beat him."