What's wrong with this theory: The Republican Party was arguably no less chaotic four years ago, neatly split between an economic conservative (Romney), a social conservative (Mike Huckabee) and a national-security conservative (John McCain), yet it didn't take too long for all the strains to congeal behind McCain: By this time in 2008, Romney had been out of the race for three weeks and McCain was the presumptive nominee.
3. It's the calendar. Changes to the Republican nominating process implemented after the 2008 election purposely elongated the nominating schedule so that more states could have their say -- and a chance to activate their GOP voters. Now, that's not looking like such a good idea. Super Tuesday 2012 is still a week in the future, but by this time in 2008, that day had come and gone, and with 20 states voting rather than the 10 that will vote next week. Not only that, the rules this time around have more states allocating delegates proportionally, so losers can still pick up some delegates. The end result is that it takes longer for any one candidate to reach the 1,144-delegate threshold that would make him the certain nominee. And so the candidates continue tearing each other apart with no end in sight.
"These RNC rules that turned to proportional awarding of delegates, this was the dumbest idea anybody ever had," Christie said recently. "You're running against an incumbent president who will not have a primary, so your idea is make ours longer so we can beat each other up longer?"
What's wrong with this theory: The idea that fewer contests were proportional in 2008 turns out to be a myth: In fact, all the states that have awarded delegates proportionally thus far -- which is every state that's voted except Florida -- also did so in 2008.
4. It's the process. From the constant drumbeat of debates to the new primacy of super PACs, every aspect of this nominating contest has served to jack up the volatility level and destabilize the calculus.
"The added stress of a series and confluence of unintended unfortuitous events overloaded the tolerance calibration" is the way preeminent GOP strategist Mary Matalin put it. Super PACs "provide a lifeline to otherwise cradle death candidacies," she said, while the death march of debates "ended up devolving into an ad hominem hammer rather than an illuminating turbo drive."
Pollster Whit Ayres, who worked for Jon Huntsman's defunct campaign, said the fractured, partisan, overheated media environment has helped prevent consensus. "It's a media with an extremely negative cast that is going to try to poke holes in every little thing; it's cable news that tends to promote people who bring more heat than light; it's the Internet that gives voice to every nutcase sitting in pajamas in a basement, hurling vitriol."