With his narrow win in Michigan, Mitt Romney has all but sewed up the Republican nomination. Intrade puts the odds at 85-15 for a Republican ticket headed by Romney now. Nate Silver isn't quite so optimistic and points out any number of scenarios where Mitt could actually lose the nomination but they're based on machinations that will make your brain sore.
So, Quo vadis, Mitt? Where are you going? You're already handicapped in the general by a nasty, brutish primary that has had more negative advertising (SuperPACS included) than most general elections, and will likely not end anytime soon.
Your first major step will likely be to decide on a running mate. I believe he already has: Ron Paul.
Let's face some facts: Paul is a serial campaigner, and serial campaigners have a habit of becoming laughingstocks-- Adlai Stevenson springs to mind. And Paul is getting old. He'd be in his 80s in 2016. This really is his last chance. Since he's not going to win the nomination, and should he somehow win the Libertarian or Green nominations, he'd likely be off the ballot in any number of states, his last best hope rests in the GOP, and accepting the Veep nomination.
Now, this is not as crazy as it might seem at first blush and strategically, it's a pretty smart move for Romney. For one thing, Paul is about the only Republican who actually attracts young voters into the Republican fold. He has certified Teabagger status, and can draw fire away from Romney and force Obama to run against both men (deploying the otherwise useless Joe Biden, who's probably drooling at the prospects of smacking Ron Paul around.)
For Paul, the logic is simple: his largest most attentive national audience ever, from the convention right down to the concession speech, he will have national news coverage of the kind he has never and will not ever get. For a man with an overinflated sense of self-worth like Paul, this has to be a real attractive prospect.
For Romney, the attraction is obvious: money.
You heard me. Ron Paul's direct fundraising machine is unparalleled in the Republican party, and rivaled only by Barack Obama's. Too, his superPAC is not far behind Romney's in fund raising. Both of these components will be vital in any general election campaign as Obama will have am huge advantage as incumbent. A popular incumbent. A popular incumbent riding the coattails of a robust recovery.
These guys need money like a wino needs Ripple.
Note something else: Ron Paul running on the national ticket in 2012 probably opens a door wide for his son, Senator Rand Paul, to run in 2016 or 2020.
I'm thinking the former, but he may be persuaded out by Chris Christie partisans.
For his part, Romney really has few options. Rick Santorum is one, to be sure, since after this campaign, he's toast. About all he could realistically run for would be governor of Pennsylvania and I doubt Pennsylvanians will want him. Gingrich will never accept the Veep nod-- he'll probably just write another book-- and if you look around, there are precious few Republicans who would sacrifice their chances in 2016 to jump on board a crashing plane.
He could call on Mitch Daniels, who is about the only Republican who hasn't shamed himself this year, even though his SOTU rebuttal left a lot to be desired. Marco Rubio would only add another Mormon to the ticket with the added bonus of a "birther" problem.
For my money, Paul is the smartest gamble Romney can make here, and as I recall, Mormons are allowed to gamble.