And as someone who ran last time and lost, he fits the the Republican pattern of being next in line for the nomination—a party habit that helped the elder George Bush, Robert Dole, and John McCain to the GOP nomination. But if 2010 established anything, it is that such “rules” no longer apply. And even if they did, they don’t in this situation. While Romney did mount a well-funded challenge for the presidency in 2008, he wasn’t actually the GOP runner-up. That title belongs to Mike Huckabee, who won in Iowa and received more votes and delegates than Romney. ~Jonathan Tobin

I’ve made the same claim about Huckabee in the past. It’s technically true, but it’s still somewhat misleading. Huckabee finished second in delegates because he stayed in much longer than Romney. It’s not true that Huckabee won more votes. Romney received more votes overall and he won more individual state contests. Huckabee had every incentive to remain in the race, especially after Romney concluded that he couldn’t win the nomination. Had Romney wished to fritter away more of his fortune beyond early February 2008, it is probable that he would have been the runner-up.

Republicans almost never nominate relative unknowns or insurgents for presidential elections. On the one occasion when they have done so since WWII, they have suffered landslide defeat. If there is one thing that Republican voters want more than the repeal of Democratic health care legislation, it is the defeat of Obama at the polls. It seems likely that enough of them are going to choose the nominee they believe to be the most electable. It’s possible that Romney doesn’t fit that description, but most of the arguments against his chances don’t cite his inability to compete in the general election. They cite his problems with conservative primary voters. If the final field just includes most of the people who seem to be seriously considering a run in 2012 (Gingrich, Bachmann, Johnson, Paul, Pawlenty, Trump, Barbour, Cain and, last and least, Roemer), the conservative vote is going to be split at least six or seven ways. The presence of Huckabee and/or Palin would probably split the vote even more. The larger the field is, the better Romney’s chances of eking out one victory after another.

It’s not clear how the 2010 election has changed the pattern of nominating the “next in line” or made this “rule” obsolete. Presumably, because establishment candidates were defeated in many primaries, we cannot assume that Republican primary voters are going to fall back on traditional patterns of selecting a presidential nominee. That doesn’t take account of the Senate races in Delaware, Nevada, and Colorado where insurgent candidates were nominated and proceeded to lose otherwise winnable races. It ignores the Senate races in Illinois and Indiana where establishment and moderate candidates won nomination handily before going on to win in the fall. Even if 2010 seemed to challenge the traditional Republican nominating pattern, the results of promoting insurgents were mixed, and savvier primary voters may be aware that the 2012 electorate is going to be a lot less hospitable to a conservative insurgent nominee than the 2010 electorate was. All of this helps explain why Romney probably will be the nominee. It doesn’t mean that Romney is a desirable or good nominee, but there hasn’t been a Republican nominee that really satisfied conservatives for a very long time. Thanks to McCain in 2000, Bush was able to cloak what was actually a fairly moderate Republican campaign in conservative rhetoric and get away with it. There’s no obvious reason to expect something dramatically different this time.