A ‘shotgun wedding’ or alone at the altar?

So, with the Republican presidential field apparently set, Mitt Romney’s the presumptive nominee, right? I’ve been mulling this over, and I can’t make up my mind.

Josh Marshall had an item overnight saying it’s time for a “shotgun wedding” — left with no viable alternatives in a generally weak field, the party’s establishment and activists are simply stuck with the guy. This rang true, right up until I read Jon Chait, who’s long been skeptical of Romney’s chances.

Republican moneymen and pundits are starting to flock to the Mitt Romney banner, sending forth the word that it is time to bow to the inevitable. But the Republican voters just do not like Mitt Romney.

The depth the of the base’s resistance to falling in behind next-in-line Romney has continuously shocked observers, resulting first in the rise of Donald Trump, then Michele Bachmann, then Rick Perry. Now Perry is swooning, and his support has gone to … Herman Cain! […]

I don’t think Cain can win the nomination, and I’m not sure he really wants it (as opposed to a nice Fox News gig.) Saying you might vote for Herman Cain for president — of the United States, not of a pizza chain — can only be read as a cry of protest.

I don’t see how Republicans could be making this any more plain. They do not want to nominate Mitt Romney.

Well, no, of course they don’t. If Republicans were in any way satisfied with Romney’s candidacy — remember, this guy has been running for president pretty much non-stop for five years — the party wouldn’t constantly be searching for a half-way credible alternative.

So what are we left with? Two propositions that strike me as equally plausible.

1. There’s no way Mitt Romney loses the race for the GOP nomination. He’s a competent candidate with a lot of money, facing ridiculous and unelectable rivals. Romney can present himself as having some experience in public office, but not too much, and some success in the private sector (just as long as voters ignore the relevant details, like all the layoffs of American workers). The establishment will like his technocratic inclinations, the base will like electability, and his background will put some key battleground states — New Hampshire and Michigan, for example — in play. Perhaps most importantly, he’s already been the beneficiary of extraordinary good luck, with each serious rival getting knocked out by someone else, or imploding on their own.

2. There’s no way Mitt Romney can win the GOP nomination. In 2012, the Republican Party is going to nominate a French-speaking Mormon vulture capitalist named Willard for the presidency? That’s absurd. The party’s voters neither like nor trust him, and he’s flip-flopped more often, on more issues, than any American politician in generations. This is, after all, a guy who supported abortion rights, gay rights, gun control, “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants, and combating climate change. He distanced himself from Reagan, attended Planned Parenthood fundraisers, and helped create the blueprint for the Affordable Care Act. Romney was for the bank bailout before he was against it; he was for the stimulus before he was against it; and he was against the auto industry rescue before he took credit for it. He’s about as appealing to the Republican Party as I am.

Chait concluded that “the mismatch between him and the party he wants to lead is not going away.” That’s true, but will it matter? I just don’t know.