The astonishing spin in the aftermath of Super Tuesday is that Mitt Romney — if he didn’t lose — didn’t win and therefore lost the night.
No, really. The guy who racked up twice as many primary and caucus victories as his nearest competitor; the fellow who slaughtered his nearest rival in winning delegates 224 to 86; and the candidate who outpolled, outspent, and outhustled the entire field and ran rings around his nearest rival in five of the six states he won is being disrespected by conservatives, pundits in the mainstream media, bloggers, and fellow Republicans across the country.
The headlines are from Mars:
“No Super Tuesday Knockout Punch” — New York Times
“Slouching Toward Victory” — Daily Mail
“Republican Split Decision” — Wall Street Journal
“Mitt’s Glass Half Empty” — Washington Monthly
“No Clear Path to Victory for Romney” — Daily Beast
“It Ain’t Over” — Weekly Standard
Let us put this nonsense to bed once and for all: Mitt Romney was a huge winner on Super Tuesday. By any objective measurement — total votes, delegates won, margin of victory, and the fact that in the four contests he didn’t win he finished second (even beating Santorum in Georgia) — Romney should be credited with almost putting the nomination out of reach. Only a miracle — “an act of God” says the Romney camp — could deny him the Republican nomination at this point. That’s only a slight overstatement.
As Josh Putnam pointed out before the Super Tuesday delegate count was even known, there is no practical or realistic path to 1144 — the number of delegates needed for the nomination — for either Santorum or Gingrich. Santorum would have to start beating the pants off Romney to gain the lion’s share of delegates in states that award them proportionally, and would also have to cross thresholds of more than 50% of the vote in some states that have the winner-take-all rules. And all Romney has to do is finish a fairly close second in states he doesn’t win to keep piling up the delegates.
RealClearPolitics gives Romney 404 delegates to Santorum’s 161. The problem with playing catch-up is best illustrated by what happened in Oklahoma. Santorum won the state by 5 points over Romney, but only picked up one delegate on him — 14-13. With Romney currently enjoying a 250-delegate lead, the delegate math starts to weigh heavily on Santorum’s campaign.
No, it is not impossible for Santorum to win. But it is now extremely unlikely — largely as a result of what transpired on Super Tuesday. In order for Santorum to win, he would have to garner 65% of the remaining delegates at stake. Gingrich would need 70%. Romney needs just 48%. So far, Santorum has won 22% of the delegates while Romney has grabbed 52%. Even if Gingrich were to drop out, the prospect of Santorum running up those totals is a very long shot at best.
It is false to assume that every single Gingrich supporter would transfer their allegiance to Santorum if the former speaker were to drop out. That makes the argument that splitting the conservative vote is the only thing keeping Santorum from winning an inaccurate one. In fact, Santorum is already dominating the conservative vote with Gingrich finishing a distant second. Only in Georgia did Newt beat Rick among conservatives. Elsewhere, it was Santorum: 36-12 in Vermont; 50-18 in Ohio; 53-22 in Tennessee; and 32-9 in Oklahoma.
No doubt a race without Gingrich would give Santorum a nice little bump in some northern states. And he would continue to dominate Romney in many Deep South states. But the rules, and the math, still favor Romney — even with a Gingrich withdrawal.
But even with Romney’s clear victory on Super Tuesday, and the inexorability of the delegate math, Mitt is still not getting much respect. His campaign organization is head and shoulders above any other candidate. He just raised $11 million in February — light years beyond any of his rivals. Why are there so many doubters among the pundit class?
First, the pundits are human. They want the race to continue because it gives them something meaningful to write and talk about. By not dismissing the extremely unlikely prospect that Santorum can catch Romney, they maintain their importance to the political conversation.
Beyond that — and perhaps more fundamentally — they really don’t much like Mitt Romney. He’s too rich, too stiff, too distant — perhaps the least approachable major candidate in a while. Little personal warmth, not much passion, Mitt Romney, for all his presumed competence and ability, doesn’t give off much heat and is therefore — for many — uninteresting.
Of course, conservatives have their own beefs with Romney, having nothing to do with his perceived lack of likeability. And Republican voters have shown their own reluctance to embrace him. Even now, with the “Not-Romney” flavor of the month largely in the past, the party is at best ambivalent about his nomination. The problem for conservatives is that a clear majority of the party are even less enthralled with Gingrich or Santorum. Is it any wonder so many want to see another candidate get in the race?
Romney is not likely to win next week in Alabama and Mississippi (he should win Hawaii), nor is he expected to win the Kansas caucuses this coming Saturday. But he will finish well enough to keep adding to his delegate total and continue his march toward the 1144 needed for the nomination.
Maybe then he’ll get a little respect from the pundits and commentators who have so blithely dismissed his smashing victory on Super Tuesday.