According to the pattern of the last thirty years, we all know that the Republican runner-up in one cycle is treated as the heir in the next open cycle. It doesn’t seem to matter how flawed or deeply disliked the runner-up is among conservative activists and journalists, and it doesn’t seem to matter how poor of a candidate he is.
McCain became the nominee in spite of all the conservatives who loathed him, and Dole won the nomination in 96 largely on the grounds that it was his turn. Democratic runners-up may try to come back, but they usually don’t succeed and just as often they don’t make the attempt. This is just one more reason why the conservative cult dedicated to Hillary Clinton is utterly misguided. If the pattern holds, and there is no reason to think that it won’t, the nomination will probably end up going to Romney or Huckabee, unless both of them appear so unelectable that a safe, viable third alternative becomes necessary. Then Mitch Daniels or someone else deemed suitable will emerge as the new frontrunner. Assuming that there will be a large, weak, divided field again, it is likely that the next Republican nominee will also win with barely a third of the early primary vote, so the bar is low enough for Romney or Huckabee to get over. It is probably still too high for Palin to cross.