Let's assume that the polls are right and Mitt Romney beats Newt Gingrich in Florida tomorrow. Newt will come before the cameras and say that it happened because The Establishment did him in. Will he be right? Or will it be something a little less conspiratorial?
To a degree, Newt is right in his complaints that the Republican elite is out to get him. They are, but it isn't because they fear his bold and transformative visionary leadership, it's because they know that if he were their nominee, they'd have pretty much no chance of winning in November. And as Jonathan Bernstein explains, there really isn't one entity we could call "the establishment." There are a lot of different people with different degrees of influence, who are exercising the influence they have in different ways. Some of them are more visible than others, but even if the majority of party leaders and politicians prefer Romney at this point, it isn't anything near a consensus. And as united as Republicans can often be, it's not as if Karl Rove presides over a meeting in an oak-paneled room in which he says, "Then we're decided: Newt must be crushed. Make it so."
We won't be able to conduct an experiment on this, but the real test of the establishment's ability to shape outcomes would be what happens in a situation where the establishment is pulling out its stops in favor of one candidate the way they are now for Romney (pretty much), and all other things were equal. But of course, all other things aren't equal. For one thing, Romney's far more well-organized campaign has been doing its best to exploit Florida's generous early-voting laws, working to bank as many votes as possible in the past weeks and months. Nearly 600,000 votes, or about a third of the expected total, have already been cast. It's a good bet that Romney has crushed Gingrich among these early voters. Second, just as they did in Iowa, right now Romney and his allies are burying Gingrich under an avalanche of brutal negative ads, outspending him by 4 to 1. Some of that money comes from The Establishment, but most of it comes from the fact that Mitt Romney has a lot of very rich friends.
The thing about The Establishment is they don't bet on long shots. They're good at making their peace with things they can't forestall, and they've decided that a Romney nomination, for all its problems, isn't something they can forestall. So they might help things along a little by launching some arrows at Newt, but they're not the reason he's not going to be the nominee.