At this point in the nominating process, it stands to reason that Republican voters would start finding the field of candidates more appealing. The presidential hopefuls have been available for nearly a year; GOP voters have gotten to know them and their agendas pretty well; and the various party constituencies should have settled on a favorite by now.
And yet, as the Pew Research Center found, rank-and-file Republicans are finding themselves less satisfied with their presidential choices, not more. As the Pew report, released yesterday, explained, "In fact, more Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters say the GOP field is only fair or poor (52%) than did so in early January (44%)."
In other words, this field of candidates isn't just unappealing to the party's own voters; it's increasingly unappealing.
Or as Paul Begala recently put it, "[W]hen I look at the economy, I think Obama can't win, but when I look at the Republicans, I think he can't lose. The economy is starting to get better; the Republicans aren't."
This is usually about the time when some on the right -- see Douthat, Kristol, et al -- begin to argue that there's still an ever-so-small chance that some "white knight" candidate will come rushing in to save the party. In case this isn't already obvious, Mitch Daniels and Jeb Bush supporters can forget it: too many filing deadlines have passed, making it "effectively impossible" for a late entrant to have a realistic shot at the nomination.
And what about talk of a brokered/deadlocked Republican convention? That's not going to happen, either.
There are four candidates left -- Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul -- and one of them will win the 2012 Republican nomination, whether the party's voters like it or not.