In a case of post Tea Party euphoria, conservatives wanted to vote for an iconoclast who wasn’t a star in the GOP or who had a record of getting along. At least 5 people who could be considered outsiders ran in 2012. Two things worked against all of them. One was an IRS rule that effectively cut off grassroots funding and the sheer number of candidates all trying to claim the Tea Party mantle. The obvious Tea Party politician, Sarah Palin, had chosen not to run.
There were any number of front runners. Michele Bachmann was at the top because of a straw poll. Herman Cain was considered a strong contender, but dropped out early. Rick Santorum won the first contest in Iowa. Newt Gingrich was the strongest Tea Party contender, but he ended his campaign in May.
Mitt Romney won early and often. He added states while Gingrich and Santorum continued to split delegate counts. Ron Paul never left the race. The thing that kept Romney from winning the longest was the anti-Romney vote. The thing that won Romney the nomination was the lack of focus for the anti-Romney vote to one candidate.
I see a lot of similarities between Romney and Donald Trump. Trump’s support in state contests has remained steady from the first couple of months until now at 35%. He got 35.1% in Wisconsin yesterday. Cruz has gotten higher percentages and had more wins since the anti-Trump vote has coalesced. In Cruz’s case, that may be too late.
While Donald Trump is very big on TV and has won a number of contests, he hasn’t been that popular. But he has always been at about 1/3 of the vote, which was very successful in a large field of candidates. Romney also benefited by a scattered field of people who the voters preferred. Romney may have won, but he wasn’t overwhelmingly popular. From the numbers I see, neither is Trump.