He’s Not Winning, He’s Just Not Losing
Super Tuesday come and gone and Romney is doing what Romney apparently does, which is gather to delegates to himself in the least impressive way possible. It takes a special presidential candidate to outspend his main rival four to one in Ohio and yet win the state with only a 1% margin — correction, it takes a special candidate to outspend his main rival who is an unmitigated public bigot in Ohio and yet win with only a 1% margin — and it appears that Romney is that candidate.
Meanwhile Santorum, the unmitigated public bigot in question, won three states and led in Ohio for a substantial portion of the evening before dropping only a single percentage point behind Romney in the final tally. That’s more than enough for him to stay in the race, particularly because the next stretch of primary states are in the South and Midwest, i.e., not Romney’s best territory in that they’re full of evangelicals and/or blue-collar folks. Looking at the primary calendar, in fact, it’s not until April 24 that Romney gets a batch of states that look generally friendly to him — that’s the day a bunch of Northeast states vote — and even then Pennsylvania’s in there to mess up his math.
My predictions in this primary season have been atrocious, so no one should actually rely on my opinion, but it looks to me like Romney, despite all his cash and the fact that Santorum is objectively terrifying to people outside the Conservabubble, might not actually wrap this up until the whole damn primary season finishes up in June. Santorum is running strong enough to pick up some of the more conservative states, and, hey, who knows, maybe Gingrich will pick up another pity primary or two down there in the South. Or maybe Romney doesn’t wrap it up at all, and we have that fabled brokered convention that makes all the politinerds squee with delight. And then what? A brokered Romney/Santorum ticket? Man, I get the twitchy giggles just thinking about that one.
(Dear GOP: A Romney/Santorum ticket would be like handing Barack Obama the largest, most delicious fruit basket ever created. Delivered by a pony. A sparkly pony. With ribbons in its mane. Named “Buttercup.” Just so you know.)
Now, those of you with a sense of memory may point out that Obama didn’t wrap up his nomination until June 2008 (and that before then, there were 20 debates between the Democratic candidates, nearly as many as the Republican candidates had this electoral season), and that the partisan rancor between the Obama and Clinton camps was pretty impressive. Didn’t stop Obama from taking the White House. This is a fair point. It’s also a fair point to note that 2008 was a year with no incumbent in the White House — and the incumbent being reasonably popular and currently benefiting from a (slowly) growing economy — for whom an extended primary season is beneficial, since it keeps his eventual opponent busy beating up and spending money on someone else. And as Santorum is to the right of Romney, it will also make it harder for him to pivot to the center later, to pick up all those independents he’ll need to actually win.
It’s also fair to note that on the GOP side in 2008, McCain locked up the GOP nomination on March 4. This year’s primary calendar wouldn’t have made locking up the nomination entirely likely, but there’s no reason that by this time someone couldn’t have been a prohibitive favorite for the nod. Romney, who was supposed to be, still isn’t.
And, I don’t know. In a way that’s heartening, I suppose. If Romney has shown us anything this year, it’s that you can have nearly all the money in the world it’s possible to have thrown into your campaign and still be fundamentally unattractive to a large number of the people you need to convince to be the GOP nominee. Money isn’t everything in this campaign, although so far it’s been just barely enough to keep Romney in the winning column. I do wonder what’s going to happen when Romney finally gets to the general election and has an opponent that he can’t outspend four or five to one, with the hope of eaking out another low-single-digit victory.
Actually, I’m lying — I don’t really wonder. I in fact have a pretty good guess what’s going to happen to him. I don’t suspect he’s going to like it.