Though it has been Santorum who has been most closely identified with these controversies, the Democrats seized on them to declare that the Republicans had launched a “war on women.” Though the charge was nonsense, it damaged the poll standing of all the GOP candidates, including Mitt Romney, the clear frontrunner for the nomination. It is no wonder that the Romney campaign wants to pivot from these topics to the economy.
So will Etch A Sketch be a major roadblock to Romney securing the nomination? That seems very unlikely. Romney has secured about half of the delegates he needs for the nomination and about 55% of all the delegates won by any candidate to date. He seems likely to to come out ahead in winner-take-all races in California, Maryland, New Jersey, and several other states.
As he has already, Romney will lose some states along the way. Rick Santorum holds a solid lead in Louisiana, which is next up on Saturday. Santorum could win in his home state of Pennsylvania, in North Carolina, in Wisconsin, and in Texas. But the delegate math for Santorum is daunting. Romney’s big lead in the delegate race, and his likely wins in some of the winner-take-all states, as well as delegates Romney will pick up from his proportional share in states where Santorum wins, will very likely get him to the 1144 number he needs before the convention.
The bad news for Romney is that the renewed flip-flopper charge will encourage Santorum to stay in the race for a longer period of time. Newt Gingrich appears to be out of money, and more likely to depart early, especially after his dismal performance in Illinois (a fourth place finish with about 8% of the vote). If Santorum does not think he will be nominated, he might still stick around to build more of a national base for a second try at the White House in a future year (no one seems to kick the disease of running for president after just one defeat, especially on the Republican side). Or he may dislike Romney enough to want to force him to win every delegate he needs. Or he may see this as a last chance on the national stage and an opportunity to advance his values and beliefs.
In any case, the longer the race goes on, the more money Romney will need to raise to fight for every delegate to get to Tampa with enough in hand. And that will detract from his ability to pivot in the next few months and aim all his fire and resources at Barack Obama. The media wants the race to continue, and so does the president. Rick Santorum will determine how long it goes on.