Nancy Pelosi’s daughter produced a documentary about the campaign of a Texas governor with little chance of winning the nomination. That governor was George W. Bush. His father was president just 8 years earlier, John McCain was the presumptive nominee, and his brother Jeb was considered the rising star in the next generation. On the other hand, Democrats rallied around VP Gore as the presumptive nominee and president. That didn’t work out so well.
American history has more examples than not of unexpected candidates winning elections. Despite this, political parties have been trying to game the choice of nominee since a public primary system came into being. In 2004, a large field of Democratic contenders was whittled down to John Kerry just because he used enough of his wife’s fortune to win the last minute of the ad war in the tiny state of Iowa.
Republicans are making the same mistake with the inevitability of Mitt Romney. Tea Party groups were arm twisted early on into supporting Romney if he became the nominee, even though they have been surprisingly loyal toward any GOP nominee. There are more examples of institutional Republicans turning on primary winners with tea party support. Voters want a fair fight where people actually get to make some kind of choice.
Circling the wagons only works against a small force. Otherwise, it just puts everyone in a smaller kill zone. Picking the “right” candidate too early is often a short-sighted and hasty choice. If the parties want to go back to smoke-filled back rooms to choose a candidate, they should. It would be cheaper for the country.