The old model — a Jimmy Carter labors in obscurity in the Iowa vineyards and then is discovered nationally after he wins there and sweeps all remaining primaries — is quaint but obsolete. Now you have to win the American Media Primary of 2007 and then your victory is ratified in the primaries and caucuses of 2008.
Morris is correct in stating that the national media has pulled the process further and further forward. We have developed, in essence, a two separate Presidential campaigns, with the primary being decided in the early part of the Presidential year, followed by a pause (while both prospective nominees go back to their donors to raise money for the fall), and then a furious general election that begins in the late spring and continues, at least in 2000, until just before the Electoral College meets.
But Morris' argument hinges on a distortion of the 2004 record, which is the most relevant for the brave new world of the National Primary. Morris claims that if the front-runner is in control on Labor Day, he/she will coast to the nomination. Yet on Labor Day 2003, Howard Dean had (seemingly) seized control of the race, and was the target of all other candidate in the debates that began that month.
Moreover, Morris writes:
Kerry’s victory in Iowa a few weeks later [in January 2004] was no more than a projection on the Iowa screen of the results settled at the national level the previous month.
While it was clear by December of 2003 that Dean was in trouble (he was clearly hurt by the capture of Saddam Hussein on December 13th), it was far from clear who would benefit; Edwards appeared to be surging and captured the Des Moines Register endorsement just before the caucus. The final margin (Kerry 37.6%, Edwards 31.1%) could have gone either way.
Morris is clearly onto a trend with the 'nationalization' of the primary process. But as for the being the front-runner on Labor Day - ask Howard Dean how that worked out for him.
Update: It should have been mentioned that the most likely way that Giuliani could win the GOP nomination is for a MSM-driven national primary to occur. Here's what conservatives are writing about Giuliani now.