By vanquishing Pawlenty, Bachmann has given Romney hope of solidifying support from the McCain constituency he lost in 2008. Moderate by GOP standards, these voters still can be the core of a winning primary constituency under the right circumstances. Bachmann, therefore, has been, and will continue to be, the key to Romney’s potential success.
There are now three likely scenarios in the GOP, assuming no other major entries. The worst-case scenario for Romney is that Perry wins the intraparty battle against Bachmann for the conservative right, leaving a Romney-Perry shoot-out.
The other scenarios are more favorable: a three-way fight splitting the conservative wing; or, Bachmann sends Perry back to the Alamo and has her own shoot-out with Romney.
Romney is a businessman, so he knows the bottom line. That is, the prevailing view of him as the strong favorite misreads the GOP terrain. Many leading pundits have said the real race starts only when the alternative to Romney emerges.
But Romney’s best hope is that the surging Bachmann can either stop Perry or leave both of them sufficiently wounded to let the former Bay State governor win ugly.
To get down to Romney, right now it looks like it is all up to Michele.
Paul Goldman is the former chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia. Mark J. Rozell is professor of public policy at George Mason University.