Not-Romney is one candidate with two heads, one of which is very large.

Nate Silver thinks the GOP primary is going to be a long, protracted race, noting that it bears a “resemblance to something like the 1984 Democratic contest or the 1976 Republican race.” Mondale won in 1984, and Ford beat Reagan in 1976, but both primaries were close calls, and neither Mondale nor Ford inspired their respective parties.

Still, I’m not sure either one had as abysmal an outlook as presumed front-runner Mitt Romney does in this race:

Meanwhile, the two not-Romney candidates – Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum – are nipping at Romney’s heels making sure that neither one has any real chance at stealing the nomination.

And of course Ron Paul has his base of support which will likely neither grow nor dwindle in the coming months.

Now, it’s almost not even worth talking about anyone in the Republican field except Romney - the race is still his to lose as far as I’m concerned. All that Santorum’s win Tuesday achieved was to further split the not-Romney vote. That doesn’t hurt Romney – if anything it helps him. So long as both Gingrich and Santorum keep winning primaries, neither is likely to drop out. And Romney is flush with cash, a well-organized campaign, and the support of the Republican Establishment. He may not have the adoration of the now all-but-defunct Tea Party, but that hardly matters.

Romney’s real problem is President Obama.

Rest assured, the president will be well-armed with Super PAC money, campaign contributions, and a well organized network of volunteers both online and in the trenches. As the economy starts to warm up, Romney’s key selling points begin to wither. The private sector businessman routine won’t resonate if unemployment is falling, at least not with moderates and independents. He can’t really drum up culture war issues, either, given his Mormonism and his history as a moderate on social issues. And his extremism in the primary will hurt him with independents in the general, as will the negativity of his rivals, none of whom are likely to stop throwing punches any time soon.

If Ron Paul goes third party, this will almost certainly hurt Romney more than Obama.

So it’s no wonder Obama seems happy these days. The Republicans, for all their bizarre hatred of the president, have failed to field even one candidate that has a chance at unseating him, and the lack of enthusiasm among GOP voters stands in stark contrast to the 2010 mid-terms and the Rise of the Tea Party. It’s hard to imagine that this will change much in the general, though Romney could, theoretically, pick a Palinesque VP to help grind up some red meat and inspire the uninspired base.

Meanwhile, for pundits and bloggers and late-night talk show hosts, and all the political junkies out there, at least we should be in for an entertaining ride.

(cross-posted)

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