Five days to go until the greatest unknown of the 2012 election is resolved: Will Mitt Romney lock up the GOP nomination early? If so, Republicans can retrench, fund-raise their way through the ranks of the 1 percent, fine-tune their message -- or lack of one -- and prepare for a serious battle with Obama. If Romney loses, a protracted process will hurt the eventual winner's chances, probably critically.
This lengthy process is killing the GOP brand. With each new debate the electorate is getting an unusually honest look at the muddled thought processes of the Republican elite. Airing their views in public is killing them, for instance, with Hispanic voters. Add that group to the long list Republicans have irrevocably lost, and they will eventually cease to exist as a major party. If your base is down to a few Idaho panhandle militia members and the employees of Fox News, you're going to have a hard time winning a plurality.
If Gingrich or Santorum can pull an upset in South Carolina, the anti-Romney wing will gain traction -- and I find that I am compelled to Root for Newt.