Somehow Romney Still Can’t Close
Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. I refer, of course, to the Republicans, who have had just about the most entertaining primary season in recent memory. Sure Clinton vs. Obama was a fierce drama, but this Republican race has been pure black comedy. Not in the Tyler Perry sense, but in the sort of macabre, masochistic sense. It’s been like watching an awkward blind date or an arranged marriage. Mitt Romney is the overeager suitor who sees his conquest as assured; and the Republican base is the demure courted, unable to believe they are stuck with this jerk. They’ve flirted with everyone, even absurd candidates like Herman Cain, Donald Trump, and Michelle Bachman, because they are unwilling to accept that they are stuck with this milquetoast stiff. Finally, it seemed they had decided to settle down. Romney had parlayed his decent showing in Super Tuesday into even more talk about his inevitability, and he seemed to be picking up momentum. The Drudge Report published some exit polling at about 6 PM that made it seem like Romney was going to win two unlikely victories, put to bed consternation over his inability to win in the south, and finally, at long last, seal the deal.
But that’s not the Romney way. He’s an albatross on his own back; he’s the Titanic, the Hindenberg, the Spruce Goose. His spectacular failings owe themselves to his lack of structural integrity, and a knack for compounding his own errors. Romney, of course, didn’t win in Mississippi or Alabama. Instead he came in a fairly close 3rd in both states. Ironically, the only reason he still seems inevitable is because his sworn enemy, Newt Gingrich, has served as his protector. Newt’s presence masks the fact that he can’t garner more than about a 1/3 of the vote in many states.
Romney has peaked. In almost every contest the exit polling reveals that the vast majority of Romney voters point to his electability as the reason they vote for him as opposed to his views on foreign, fiscal, or social policy. Think about that for a second. If, say, half of his voters are voting for him because of the theory that he will make the best candidate against Obama, then what is his true level of support? 15-20% of the Republican base in any given state? Is there anyone in the Republican Party who is excited by Romney? Rick Santorum is a joke. He’s an outdated social conservative bested by 20% in his home state, albeit in a tough year for Republicans. Newt Gingrich is a joke as well. He’s an open egomaniac who wore out his welcome on the national stage in about 1998. And Mitt Romney can’t decisively beat these guys, even as he exponentially outspends his opponents.
It was always going to be tough sledding for Romney in the south. He’s a Yankee, and a Mormon to boot. His losses last night weren’t necessarily surprising, I predicted them in my column after Super Tuesday, but Romney was a victim of heightened expectations. I guess he’s been a victim of high expectations the whole race in a certainsense, but when you’re a well coiffed millionaire running against this amateurish bunch, you probably should be able to meet them.
The big story the past couple days was how Romney joked that he had “begun to eat grits and say ya’ll” developments that Romney called “strange” . He was affecting a slight southern drawl. But it was almost painful to watch. Romney tries to be slick, but he is so clearly pandering. It seems he doesn’t even believe himself. When one tries to pander to voters they shouldn’t express the fact that they know they are pandering, and Romney does. You don’t point out that your affectations are strange.
And what do we make of Rick Santorum? After his strong showing in Iowa I compared him to Tim Tebow, and the comparison has held true. Just like Tim Tebow his successes seem like dumb luck. They seem attributable to the failings of his opponents just as much as any display of his own skill. But you have to applaud him for positioning himself to take advantage. I’ll point out that the Denver Broncos seem poised to dump Tim Tebow for Peyton Manning, and maybe something analogous will happen to Santorum at the Republican Convention.
Santorum is the perfect candidate for the current Republican base, which seems to be growing more and more hysterical. They claim to be Tea Partiers, but like Santorum, it seems fiscal conservatism is more important in theory than in practice for them. Santorum is the candidate who stands most fiercely against the tide of modernity, and isn’t that what being conservative is all about.
I saw an exit poll on CNN that said Santorum won a plurality of college graduates in Alabama; this after he seemed to assert that going to college was “snobbish”. This is a perfect illustration about southern Republican voters; they love to vote against their own self-interest.
Now lets be clear: Romney will likely be the candidate. The math just doesn’t work for Santorum to catch him. We’re in the part of the season when perception starts to matter less than hard math. When a victory in Guam or the Northern Marianas is as important as a victory in Kansas. When the full results were tabulated, which included Romney wins in Hawaii and American Samoa, he actually won the most delegates last night. Romney’s lead is simply too big and he’ll likely win California and New York and put himself near the magic number of delegates needed for nomination. But at this point does anyone feel good about him winning the nomination? Even his electability argument is starting to be undermined by polling showing Santorum competitive with him against Obama. Romney’s been bolstered by support from the so-called “Republican Elite,” but this support is an inch deep and a mile wide. When do the people who call the shots decide that it’s not a good idea to nominate a guy who can’t get more than a 1/3 of the vote seemingly anywhere? Perhaps Romney’s a smarter politician than I give him credit for because he made at least one good decision last night: He didn’t give a speech. The sight of him frozen faced offering his banal platitudes would’ve been almost too depressing to watch.
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