As an amateur political handicapper, my record is mixed at best. At this point in the last presidential cycle I thought it was a foregone conclusion that Hillary Clinton would be our next president. So apply as many grains of salt to my electoral foresight as you like.
Yet I’m not alone in interpreting the recent Herman Cain surge in the polls as a dead giveaway that Romney has already locked up the Republican presidential nomination. Like Mike Huckabee last time around, Cain’s an engaging television personality, but next to nobody’s idea of a president. Huckabee's popularity with evangelicals last time around helped John McCain fend off Romney’s challenge from the right (when Romney was still trying to impersonate a movement conservative). The fact that Cain’s taking up most of the oxygen in the Tea Party tent at this late date is suffocating any candidate who could make Romney pay for his ideological slipperiness.
There couldn't be much worse news for Obama and Democrats. Romney’s getting through the Republican primaries without developing any hard ideological edges along the way will enable him to slip Obama’s punches in the general election without demoralizing a Republican base energized by its antipathy to a sitting president. That, you'll recall, was pretty much the formula for Obama’s success four years ago against John McCain. If you ask me, under present economic and political circumstances, Romney has to be the odds-on favorite to be our next president.
Granted, if you squint a little, you can cast Romney in the role of Thomas Dewey in 1948. I can see Romney squandering a big political lead by campaigning too cautiously against a give-em-hell Democratic president. But to make the image stick in your mind's eye, you need to be able to imagine Obama as a latter-day Harry Truman, and today’s independent voters being as receptive to unabashed liberalism as they were in Truman’s day when they still had reverent memories of FDR and the New Deal. Good luck with that.