* In addition to all the above distractions to the campaign, Sarah Palin has continued to throw her childlike tantrums for attention, most recently by launching leg two of her summer bus tour from Iowa, during the Ames activities. Her shenanigans, along with others, have kept Romney entirely off the media radar screen — not only allowing his gaffes to escape large-scale notice, but, more important, letting him avoid taking stands of any kind, like, for example, on the recent debt-ceiling debate. This is key, because every time he has to actually take a position, it either hurts him in the primary, or, if he takes a position extreme enough to satisfy the conservative base, it wounds him for the general election.
* Finally, the latest economic struggles, punctuated by last week's roller-coaster stock-market ride, has dropped Barack Obama to the lowest polling nadir of his presidency, according to Gallup.
All of this suggests that the GOP race will quickly become, for all practical purposes, a three-way race among Romney, Perry, and Bachmann. The party establishment will of course work to block Bachmann, who has probably peaked too soon anyway. But they will also soon be persuaded that Perry would blow this chance for the GOP to win the White House. They will thus rally around Romney, helping him win Iowa and New Hampshire — effectively ending the contest and wrapping up the nomination by February. This easy consolidation will spare Romney the need to kowtow to the Tea Party extremists. Thus, he will be in strong shape heading into the general-election fight against a weakened, vulnerable incumbent.
That's not the only way things could play out, of course. Republican primary voters might go with the radically anti-government Perry — or, who knows, maybe even Bachmann. And Obama is far from dead yet.
But still, the likelihood of a President Romney seems far more realistic today than it did just a week ago. And that's more despite Romney than because of him.
In truth, it's hard to find a single thing that's gone well for Romney himself.
His fundraising, notably, has been surprisingly weak. Yes, it easily leads this second-tier field, but it's well behind his own numbers of four years ago — when he was a decided underdog in his first national race. He should be well outpacing that this time, as the front-runner, yet most GOP donors have been staying on the sidelines rather than pitching in for him.
Romney has also shown absolutely no upward movement in polling — his numbers are, frankly, terrible for a front-runner with his advantage in name recognition and money. He has also, for a front-runner, been strikingly unable to round up political endorsers. None of the former presidential candidates or near-candidates has backed him. The problem seems to go considerably deeper: his national and state-by-state campaign co-chairs are heavy on hedge-fund managers and light on political heavyweights.
Meanwhile, Romney has kept himself so removed from public contact that he gets mocked for his inactivity almost as much as for his notorious flip-flopping and inauthenticity — I have dubbed him the hermetically sealed candidate, while Politico recently called his campaign the Mittness Protection Program.