So the interrobangonets are abuzz about how Mitt “I Am The Next GOP Presidential Candidate, Really” Romney managed to lose three states in a single night to Rick Santorum of all people. I’ve previously discussed how I’ve long felt that Romney is the weakest “prohibitive favorite” in a long time, but now that the campaign is eight states in, we can more accurately assess this, as follows:
1.) The majority of Republicans will vote for not-Romney over Romney, given the chance. Mitt has only won three of eight states. In only one state (Nevada) has he managed to crack 50% of the vote (and then only just). In more conservative states he has trouble cracking 40% of the vote. The base does not like Romney, and for a long time their problem has been that they could not decide if they preferred Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum to him, which is understandable because Gingrich is an awful person and Santorum a proven loser, but it seems that, barring something weird happening (which has been the case frequently so far) that Santorum is finally getting the nod, mostly because Gingrich’s entire strategy was to say “I can beat Obama in a debate, I will own his ass” and then could not beat Mitt Romney in a debate. (Of course, Gingrich’s entire strategy was also predicated on the notion that Barack Obama would be lost without a teleprompter, which is blindly stupid – Obama owned McCain at the debates in 2008 and has always been a careful and eloquent extemporaneous speaker – but hey, nothing like the GOP for demanding that we all pretend that the black guy can’t speak well without help.)
2.) Despite this, Romney can still win. Since most of the GOP primaries are no longer winner-take all, Romney can still win the nomination by being able to get a healthy dollop of each state’s delegates plus a larger percentage of the big states like New York and California where he would never win in the general election but which are comfortable enough with him to give him their support. That, combined with the fact that Romney has practically all of the announced superdelegates so far, could give him the nod. Of course, a large part of Romney’s victory path has always required him to be viewed as the inevitable result, and if Romney appears to not be an inevitable result then he could very well crumble.
3.) No matter what happens, this is not a GOP version of Hillary/Obama 2008. That primary campaign was between a longtime Democratic party top dog and the Future of the Party ™ who was a legitimate threat. This primary is between a Republican version of John Kerry except less likeable and human, a dude who lost a re-election campaign by twenty points, a guy who was so dishonest that his fellow Republicans said “dude, whoa” and an insane dwarf.
4.) Nobody likes Mitt Romney. Mitt has run an excruciatingly negative campaign. He has spent more than the rest of the field combined, almost all of it on negative ads against Newt Gingrich. This is not someone who will convince you to vote for him; he can only say “don’t vote for the other guy.” That’s not how you win elections. He could still very possibly win the primary, because money can go a long way. But in the general?