Sorry for the Matt Yglesias impersonation, but I’ve pretty much stayed away from posting about the GOP race for a while, and I had some probably not very original thoughts.
I’m not sure Ross and Ramesh are right that Huckabee can’t win the nomination, nor am I sure they are right that Huckabee’s rise fatally wounds Romney and turns this into a two-man Huckabee-Giuliani race.
The question is: if Romney is wounded by an Iowa loss, how quickly does he die, and where do his defectors go?
I don’t think he dies quickly. And as for his defectors, some will go to Huckabee, of course. Those who don’t, though, are very unlikely to go to Giuliani – not only because they have positioned themselves in such contrasting ways, but more importantly because the primary attacks on Giuliani are coming from Romney, and people don’t defect to the guy who has been whaling on the guy who used to be their guy. I think it’s more likely that they go to McCain or Thompson, whichever looks stronger, which presumably means McCain at this point.
There’s a very reasonable prospect that the Iowa returns are: Huckabee in first, Romney a close second, Thompson and Giuliani competing for third. That’s what the polls look like now, anyhow.
Romney is probably strong enough and well-known enough in New Hampshire to hold onto the state after a strong second-place in Iowa. But if his defectors split between McCain and Huckabee, you could see a New Hampshire finish that is Romney in first, McCain in second, Huckabee a close third, and Giuliani in fourth.
I don’t think that’s a set up for a two-man Giuliani-Huckabee contest. It could be Romney-Huckabee, Romney-Giuliani, Romney-McCain, Huckabee-McCain – there would be lots of options.
By contrast, if Huckabee weren’t scrambling everybody’s eggs, then we would likely be looking at a Romney-Giuliani two-man contest, with very little room for McCain to get a second look and Thompson performing just as poorly as he has been. Indeed, it’s only because Huckabee is rising that McCain has the chance of taking the job Fred Thompson’s was originally cast for: the guy who everyone will feel comfortable about losing with.
Bottom line: if you are a stop-Giuliani Republican, I think you can spin a positive story out of the rise of Huckabee even if you think Huckabee loses a two-man race with Giuliani.