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Rudy's Big Problem

Ramesh Ponnuru writes:

I have always thought that Giuliani could not win a two-man primary. I no longer believe that. He could beat Huckabee even in a two-man race. He can root for Huckabee to take out all his stronger competitors.

Ross Douthat agrees. Meanwhile, Dick Morris echoes the emerging consensus that Romney and Huckabee are fighting to see who will go up against Rudy on February 5th, a.k.a. Super Tuesday.

I am perfectly willing to believe that a lot can change between now and the start of voting on January 3rd. Giuliani could even surge in Iowa. But if he performs as badly in the first few states as it looks like he might, I am not at all convinced that he will even be one of the two (if there are only two) candidates left standing in early February. In Iowa, he'll be lucky to finish a distant third. In New Hampshire, he could finish second or as low as fourth (if Huckabee wins Iowa). In South Carolina he could fall to as low as fifth. 

We might not get a chance to prove my hypothesis, but I think that if Rudy comes in third in Iowa, third in New Hampshire and, say, third in South Carolina, it won't matter who has won. In other words, it could be a mess, with Huckabee and Romney and McCain all doing well, and I still think Rudy's campaign will be effectively over. His support nationally is very, very soft, and the idea that it isn't going to collapse even if GOP voters haven't coalesced around a clear altenative strikes me as unlikely. Moreover, it's not a good sign that everywhere the campaigns have "engaged", Rudy is trailing, in some cases badly. If Giuliani wants to win the GOP nomination, he can't count on a de facto National Primary Day to rescue him.

--Isaac Chotiner