The scenario they didn’t see coming

There are a whole bunch of well-sourced reports this morning on the race for the Republican presidential nomination, and they all pretty much say the same thing: (1) Mitt Romney and his team never expected Newt Gingrich’s recent surge; (2) Romney and his team aren’t sure what to do about it.

Here’s the L.A. Times‘ Doyle McManus, for example.

The Romney camp is worried.

By this point in the Republican presidential campaign, Mitt Romney’s backers had hoped that conservative voters would be coalescing around the former Massachusetts governor as the inevitable nominee.

But that’s not happening. The disappointed partisans of Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain haven’t flocked to Romney; they haven’t even trickled. Instead, Romney’s support in national polls declined over the last month. In many surveys, there’s a new front-runner: Newt Gingrich, whose candidacy once looked so moribund that his staff left in droves and he took off for a vacation in the Greek islands.

Now, Romney and his aides are having to contemplate nightmare scenarios: A Gingrich upset in New Hampshire, a Gingrich victory in South Carolina, a Gingrich endorsement from Sarah Palin — and a bitter, two-man race all the way through the 11 primaries of Super Tuesday on March 6.

Romney’s staff had planned for a series of potential scenarios, and their expectations surrounding Pawlenty, Bachmann, Perry, and Cain turned out to be right. But Gingrich’s rise was one of those developments the Romney campaign just didn’t see coming.

The Washington Post reported today, “For this unexpected turn in what has been a steady and sure campaign, the Romney team has no road map. With just five weeks until the Iowa caucuses, the former Massachusetts governor and his advisers are trying to figure out what to do.”

Politico, meanwhile, that Team Romney is prepping its offensive.

They know the stakes are higher with five weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses and a challenger who now poses their most substantial threat. They’re preparing a robust, sustained attack that tags the former House speaker as a Washington insider and serial flip-flopper who can’t be trusted with the nation’s economy.

A senior Romney campaign strategist added that Gingrich has “just gone through so many incarnations.”

Hmm. The race for the GOP nomination will apparently come down to two candidates, each of whom will accuse the other of being a bigger phony and a more shameless flip-flopper.

I suspect Democrats will be making plenty of popcorn.