Sunday, March 04, 2012

Despite tie in Ohio, Romney keeps pulling away from Santorum for GOP nomination

Where did the weekend go?

In anticipation of a busy week ahead, what with Super Tuesday just two days away, I decided, without even really thinking about it, to stay away from the computer and more or less avoid U.S. political news altogether. Just needed to relax and refresh, I think.

But let me make a few comments as I get back into the swing of things:

Despite the current Romney-Santorum tie in Ohio (according to the polls) and the media's attempt, as is their wont, to manufacture drama, there really isn't any uncertainly as to the eventual outcome of the race. Romney will win. This has been clear for some time now, but his big wins last Tuesday, particularly in Michigan, where his margin of victory as just enough to indicate he's the solid frontrunner overall, made it certain.

There's no "white knight" -- no Jeb or Mitch or Chris or Bobby -- coming in to save the party from itself, and there won't be a brokered convention this summer in Tampa. The (pro-Romney) elites won't let that happen.

And Santorum isn't about to make a comeback. He peaked well before the Michigan and Arizona primaries, and the longer he's been in the spotlight the less likely are his chances of actually pulling this out. Sure, he has much of the party's right-wing base behind him, but even the right-wing GOP isn't going to nominate someone who's against birth control and who otherwise espouses unabashedly such obviously extreme positions.

Yes, many leading Republicans hold views very similar, if not identical, to Santorum's, but those with national aspirations are usually smart enough either to hide or at the very least dilute them (e.g., anti-choice but with an exception or two just to show they're not entirely crazy. And some just hold such views rhetorically, that is, say they're socially conservative in Santorum's vein but actually aren't and certainly wouldn't make them core components of their policy platforms. The problem with Santorum, and this is evident to the party's elites (as well as conservative media elites), is that he actually believes what he says, that he's genuine, that he would actually do what he says he'd do. This is to his credit, in a way, and explains why the media were soft on him at first -- such an apparently genuine politician is something of a rarity, particularly when juxtaposed with Mitt, who is anything but genuine. But now the media know what he really is and, prodded by the party's elites, are making sure the narrative of Santorum as a nutcase is right up front in their coverage of this race, even as they try to make it seem as if he's actually got a shot to beat Romney.

It is certainly possible that Santorum will do fairly well on Tuesday and that Romney will struggle in the South (Georgia, Tennessee) and Midwest (Oklahoma, North Dakota). But Romney should do everywhere else, including Virginia, where Santorum and Gingrich aren't even on the ballot, not to mention in Massachusetts and Vermont. And I suspect we'll emerge from Super Tuesday with Romney having solidified his status not just as frontrunner but as overwhelming favorite to win the nomination.

And just to drive that point home, let us not forget the results yesterday in Washington, where Romney won easily: 38 to 25 over Paul, with Santorum at 24 and Gingrich well back at 10. Not so long ago, the outcome of these caucuses were in doubt. The fact that Mitt won by so much shows just where the momentum is.

Remember when Santorum was ahead of Romney nationally. That, too, was not so long ago. Two week ago, in fact. On February 14, Rasmussen had Santorum up by 12. That was an outlier, as most other national polls had him up by single digits, between two and nine, but it was telling and by the end of the month the numbers had flipped. On February 29, Rasmussed had Romney up by 16, a 28-point turnaround. This, too, appears to be an outlier, but the most recent Gallup tracking polls has Romney up by 14.

I will continue to point out that Romney remains an incredibly weak frontrunner. Given the awfulness of his opponents throughout this campaign, any strong candidate would be well ahead by now, much further than where Romney is now. But there's no doubt that Romney has this race wrapped up. Barring an utter disaster on Tuesday and/or some personal or political scandal (like coming out in support of Obamacare, or in some other way showing he's not actually the crazy hardcore conservative he's made himself out to be), he'll be the Republican candidate in November. Whether Republicans like it or not.

Of course, I'm hoping for an utter disaster on Tuesday and/or for some personal or political scandal, but that just isn't likely to happen. This has been an amusing race, to be sure, but it's just about over. And so now we can begin to watch as Romney contorts himself into hilariously untenable positions as he tries to shift back to the center even as he continues to stress his far-right bona fides, and of course to talk seriously about whom he might select as his running mate.


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