I've been talking up Tim Pawlenty's odds of winning the GOP nomination, and talking down Mitt Romney's. I've seen a couple arguments to the contrary floating around out there. Nate Silver touts Romney's advantages in geography and money. Dan Amira cites a poll showing that Romney currently leads among Tea Partiers.
To me, this really misses the point. The point, I'd say, is that Romney has caught himself on the wrong side of the emotional hot button issue for the Republican Party. What's more, he's there all by himself. There is no Republican split on this issue. No Republicans voted for the Affordable Care Act. Within the party the bill is viewed, without significant dissent, as the greatest assault on freedom in memory, and possibly ever. Meanwhile, Romney's response is pathetic and weak. On top of all that, the flip-flops he had to undergo to run for president the last time around leave him in no position to flip flop again.
Now, does Romney fare decently in polls right now? Yes, he does. But this tells us little. First, many Republicans have yet to tune into the debate -- indeed, the debate has yet to take place. These polls are measuring name identification more than anything else. Second, "leading" in a poll look this does tell you much, either. Romney scores 24% in the pol cited by Amira. That may be higher than any other candidate, but it doesn't tell you much about Romney's ability to reach the threshold of support he needs.
The biggest problem here is that the model of how the campaign works is just too static. What's happening now is the formative stages of a process by which Romney's foes are going to use health care to disqualify him. They're attacking his health care record, and he's mainly just hoping it stops. But of course, it won't stop, because the other candidates want to win.