It is beyond obvious that the Republican establishment, or what remains of it, is absolutely in shock over the possibility of Newt Gingrich winning the presidential nomination but is not firmly committed to Mitt Romney, the one man many pundits say might give President Obama a run for his money.
But how to quantify this?
The inestimable Nate Silver writes in The New York Times that the best way to do this is to measure endorsements from the so-called elite of party officials, and here Romney is far in the lead with 19 endorsements from the 75 current Republican senators and governors. Gingrich has a mere two endorsements and Ron Paul but one, while Rick Perry had four before he dropped out.
Yet this represents just 26 endorsements in all, barely more than a third of the possible total even thought the race has become white hot with Romney and Gingrich trading leads in the polls and attacks in the debates.
Silver’s assistant, Micah Cohen, built a database of senatorial and gubernatorial endorsements in past nomination cycles and found that endorsements are coming much more slowly this year than in 2000, 2004 and 2008. The inference is that there just isn’t much enthusiasm for Romney and yet another sign that the former Massachusetts governor has been struggling to close the deal and now is struggling keep his head above water in Florida.
The endorsement sluggishness, notes Silver, may also be a product of the hope of some of the GOP elites that a Mitch Daniels or Jeb Bush may yet make a late entry into the race since Romney wouldn’t stand a chance against Obama if he can’t weather an onslaught from an unelectable Gingrich.