Rudy the Front-Runner?

John Heilemann:

Yet now the Republican field is exactly where Rudy's people believed (hoped, prayed) it would be at this point: in utter disarray. If he wins in Florida, where he's essentially been living, basking in the warm sunshine and building up his firewall, while his rivals have frozen their asses off in Iowa and New Hampshire, he will be in the catbird seat. Indeed, you could even argue that, despite having won nothing thus far, Giuliani is now the GOP front-runner again, albeit by default.

You could argue that, but you'd be wrong. Yes, Rudy still has an outside chance in Florida, and yes, so long as he has a chance there he has a chance at the nomination, and yes, the divisions in the field are part of what's keeping him alive. But he isn't ahead in Florida, despite having campaigned exclusively there for weeks, and in every single state where any non-Rudy candidate has campaigned in any significant way, his support hasn't just fallen off, it's absolutely cratered. Until he demonstrates the ability to break this pattern, and poll above ten percent in a race that's actually contested, his chances at the nomination have to be judged slimmer than any of the three men who've actually won one of those gold medals Mitt Romney's always talking about.

Meanwhile, I agree with Matt: At this point, for all his weaknesses, Romney has to be judged the closest thing to a front-runner in the GOP field.

Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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