GOP’s second place last time rule
In 1976, Ronald Reagan challenged President Gerald Ford for the Republican Party nomination, winning 23 states to Ford’s 27. Then in 1980, Reagan was the nominee.
In 1980, George H. W. Bush won 6 states, with Ronald Reagan winning the remaining 44. Bush was selected as Reagan’s Vice President, and after Reagan’s two terms was the nominee in 1988.
In 1988, Bob Dole won 5 states and Pat Robertson won 4 states, with Vice President Bush winning the remaining 41 states. Bush was elected president, contesting again in 1992. In 1996, Bob Dole was the nominee.
The pattern doesn’t hold between 1996 and 2000. Bob Dole win 44 states, Bat Buchanan won 4, and Steve Forbes won 2, whereas George W. Bush was the nominee in 2000.
In 2000, John McCain won 7 states to Bush’s 43. Bush was elected president, contesting again in 2004. Then in 2008, McCain was the nominee.
In 2008, Mitt Romney won 11 states, Mike Huckabee won 7, with McCain winning the remaining 31. Now Romney looks the most likely to win this year’s nomination, though it is by no means secure for him.