The Republican Party has developed a tradition of choosing the “next in line” for their Presidential nomination in the past half century, with the one exception of Barry Goldwater in 1964, which became a total disaster.
1960–Richard Nixon was “next in line” as Vice President to succeed Dwight D. Eisenhower.
1968–Richard Nixon was “next in line” after the Goldwater debacle, as a “second chance” for the “workhorse” of the Republican Party.
1976–Gerald Ford had succeeded Richard Nixon, and was therefore “entitled” to the nomination of the party.
1980–Ronald Reagan had fought the “good fight” against Gerald Ford and carried the conservative tradition of Barry Goldwater, so was “next in line”.
1988–George H. W. Bush had finished behind Reagan in 1980, and served as his Vice President loyally for eight years, so was “next in line”.
1996–Bob Dole had competed and lost to Bush in 1988, had also competed for the nomination in 1980, and run with Gerald Ford for Vice President in 1976, so was “entitled” to the nomination.
2000-George W. Bush wished to carry on the tradition and heritage of his father, who had been defeated by Bill Clinton, with the assistance of third party candidate Ross Perot in 1992, so was seen as “next in line”.
2008–John McCain, who had been the leading opponent of George W. Bush in 2000, was seen as “next in line”, “entitled” to the nomination of the party.
2012–Mitt Romney ended up second, losing to John McCain in 2008, so is seen by many as “next in line” for the nomination.
Of course, in none of these elections did the “next in line” gain the nomination just for the asking, and that will not happen in 2012 either, but it is, in historical terms, an interesting state of affairs!