Updated 12/20 with ABC/Post data
The basis of Romney’s hold on the Republican establishment comes not from his personal charm nor from long service to the conservative movement but to a simple fact: he is the only active candidate who appears to have a significant chance of defeating Barack Obama.
The chart above is compelling evidence. No other candidate has shown any evidence of electoral appeal equal to Obama’s. Even at the peak of their surges, none of the GOP field has been able to match the Obama trend line. Romney, in contrast, has consistently held within striking distance of Obama and has once or twice reached a tie.
The irony is Obama may be the most vulnerable incumbent since Jimmy Carter, based on the fundamentals of approval and the economy and tossing in the unprecedented rate saying the country is “off on the wrong track”, and yet no Republican except Romney seems able to compete.
The GOP elite has reluctantly become critical of each surging alternative candidate as each has shown fatal flaws, both within the GOP and in failure to become a credible alternative to Obama.
It seems impossible that the Republican electorate would turn to Romney if an alternative with better ability to win in November existed. But each alternative tested so far has been found wanting in this most important dimension. Lacking a late entrant, the nomination remains Romney’s on the simplest of grounds. He might beat Obama.