Maybe this time will be different. In the wake of Mitt Romney's convincing victories in Florida on Tuesday and Nevada on Saturday, perhaps the GOP will rally to the former Massachusetts governor and embrace him in a manner which they have resisted thus far.
But through the first month of primary contests, Republican voters haven't been much about embracing. They've been too busy running away from candidates. Romney's New Hampshire victory, for example, sparked pronouncements that with two wins under his belt (the Iowa caucuses not yet having been retroactively awarded to Rick Santorum), he was marching to the nomination. This prompted a scramble away from Romney, right into the waiting arms of Newt Gingrich.
The former House speaker then easily won South Carolina and gave Republicans another acute case of buyer's remorse. They were encouraged in this both by a GOP establishment terrified of a Gingrich nomination and by Newt's inevitable self-destructiveness. (Did he just say he wants to colonize the Moon?)
So now maybe GOP voters will settle in with Romney for the long haul. Or maybe they'll look again at Romney and see a transparently inauthentic conservative of convenience with a propensity for mind-boggling gaffes ("I'm also unemployed," and "Corporations are people, my friend," and "Well, the banks aren't bad people," and so on.)
February brings a string of caucuses, plenty of time for an already restless conservative electorate to let its eye wander some more. Maybe Newt will rebound, again. Or Santorum will get another look. Regardless, expect the volume to ratchet up on a building drumbeat: hope for a white knight or brokered convention (where no candidate wins the nomination on the first ballot) to rescue Republicans from their uninspiring final four. It's not a hope they should nurture.
A number of high-profile conservatives have been pining for a white knight. The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol has steadfastly led the charge, penning a November anti-Romney editorial titled "Evitable" which imagined a late-January entrant into the race. After South Carolina, the New York Times's Ross Douthat joined the white knight chorus, declaring that Kristol had "been right all along" and hoping that a better brand of candidate might still "step into the breach that caution has created, and cowardice has sustained." That same week, the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin wrote an open letter to 10 high-profile Republicans exhorting that "it's time to get off your … er … time to get off the bench and into the game." MSNBC's Joe Scarborough told his viewers that he'd been canvassing "conservative movers and shakers" and that "every single one I've spoken to is trying to figure out a way to get to a brokered convention." Republican Party godfather Rush Limbaugh told his listeners that "there are rumblings in the Republican establishment of a brokered convention now." Former RNC Chairman Michael Steele told the Huffington Post that there was a "50-50" chance for an open convention.
But there are a couple of problems with the white knight pipe dream. The first is filing deadlines. A candidate who declared today would be able to get on only 15 primary ballots, none for a race that takes place before April 24. By then there will have been 35 nominating contests.
Another problem is the white knights themselves. Call this the Perry Paradox, that a potential candidate's attractiveness is highest just before he (or she) enters the race. Consider the conservatives' wish list. Before officially not running, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels angered social conservatives by calling for a "truce" on their issues. He is open to defense spending cuts and a VAT tax. And as conservative pundit Matt Lewis wrote in the Daily Caller, "He looks like Vladimir Putin on TV. He has little charisma." Perhaps New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie? Conservatives love his bluster, but they may be less enthused about his heretical positions on immigration, gun control, and climate change.