The first votes have not yet been cast in the Republican primaries, and we're already beginning to hear talk of independent runs for the presidency.
In part, that springs from a sense of dissatisfaction — or at least surprise — with the way the primary field has performed this year, and with the candidates who appear to have risen to the top. Few would have guessed that after the surprising Tea Party triumph in the 2010 midterms, the top two contenders for the GOP nomination would be the man who implemented a precursor of ObamaCare and a longtime Beltway insider whose personal baggage had long kept him from serious consideration.
Barring a surprise in the next five or six weeks, there won't be a candidate to quickly unite the conservative base, the moderates, and the independents. If the primary competition lasts deep into March and April, it will pit these elements of the Republican umbrella against each other. In that kind of environment, it's possible that a schism could develop that produces an opportunity for an independent candidate — or perhaps more than one.