Conventional wisdom leading up to the 2012 election suggested 2 things:
1. Since an incumbent is running for re-election, this will likely be a referendum on President Obama rather than a choice between a Democrat and a Republican.
2. President Obama's re-election will hinge on how well the economy is doing.
Lately, the Republicans are doing everything they possibly can to prove that conventional wisdom wrong.
Their desire to make this election a fight has led them to assume that the best candidate is the one who demonstrates the most contrast with President Obama. We've seen several of the contenders make that point in debates. That's one of the many reasons they don't tend to trust Romney - they're fearful that he won't provide enough of a contrast with Obama.
And so we see both Romney and Gingrich adopting language that embraces the choice. Gingrich is talking about this election being the most important of our lifetimes and Romney is suggesting that this is an election about "the soul of America."
Meanwhile, in order to develop that idea of a choice, they've had to paint themselves into an ever more extremist corner to make the contrast. What they will be left with at the end of this primary process is either a candidate with a reputation for flip-flopping who will have a very difficult time moderating that stance for the general election, or a candidate who doesn't give a damn about moderation. Either way, their extremism will take center stage and negate the idea of a referendum on President Obama.
Secondly, how much are we hearing about the economy and jobs these days as a focus of this election? Almost nada.
Part of that is because the Republican candidates are so busy beating up on each other about past financial and sexual misconduct that the issue Americans care the most about has fallen by the wayside. Even when they do allude to it, its usually cloaked in the framework of dog whistles about poor people's entitlement and state's rights.
The truth is that these two pieces of conventional wisdom were about the only thing the Republicans had going for them coming into this 2012 election. The drawn-out primary process they seem to be heading into means they lose both. Couldn't happen to a nastier party :-)