Romney wins, Gingrich loses, Santorum needs a miracle

The least exciting candidate is Romney, but he's the plodding, competent tortoise in the race, and he's winning. Photo: Associated Press

NATCHITOCHES, La., March 7, 2012—“We keep coming back.”

Rick Santorum does indeed keep coming back, but so does Mitt Romney. Romney won in Idaho, Massachusetts, Vermont, Virginia, Ohio and Alaska, bringing his delegate total to 404 and expanding his popular vote lead to over 1.2 million. Santorum trails with 165, and Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul trail with 106 and 66. (Numbers updated 3/7/12)

No one will drop out of the race, but there’s no obvious way forward for Gingrich. His strategy now depends on the south, but he’s already lost in Florida, Tennessee and Virginia (where he didn’t make the ballot), so a successful southern strategy looks less likely than a moon base. Even if he were to win the remaining southern states, they’re not enough to take the nomination.

Gingrich has won only two states out of 18 so far, but that’s exactly two more than Paul, who also has no obvious way forward. Regardless of the poll results, Paul is in the race to the end and won’t deviate from his message or campaign. If he’s running a stealth campaign to move the GOP in his direction, he may well succeed, but tonight’s results clearly show that he won’t win the nomination.

No way forward: Newt and Callista Gingrich. (Photo: Associated Press)

No way forward: Newt and Callista Gingrich. (Photo: Associated Press)

Santorum did well enough tonight to encourage him to continue, but not well enough to derail Romney. Romney didn’t lock up the nomination, but his victory was decisive and he demonstrated a problem facing Santorum: One candidate after another has surged to the front of the GOP pack as the anti-Romney, but Romney has plodded on always in first or second, not surging, but not having to fight for his turn to surge.

Santorum was well up in the polls in both Michigan and Ohio, and he managed to lose both. He failed to qualify in Virginia, and he didn’t fully qualify in Ohio. He claims to be a candidate who can win in every region of America, but he’s been incapable of holding on to large leads in important states, and his lack of an organized ground game cost him dearly last night. Romney hasn’t had to surge because his GOP opposition has been completely unable to hold or exploit their own advantages.

If Romney is uninspiring, he’s eminently competent. His opponents generate more excitement among their supporters, but they’re inept. Gingrich compared himself to the tortoise in his interminable, self-important speech tonight, but the tortoise in this race has been Romney.

So where does it go from here? Competence defeats ideological rigor. Romney hasn’t always been careful in his utterances, and he’s been incapable of connecting with large segments of the GOP, but he’s focused, intelligent, well-organized, well-heeled, and he’s gathering up endorsements and delegates. He hasn’t locked up the nomination, and Santorum will probably win some coming contests in the south, but Romney will win the nomination.

Rick Santorum needs a miracle. (Photo: Associated Press)

Rick Santorum needs a miracle. (Photo: Associated Press)

Gingrich won’t withdraw to let conservatives coalesce around Santorum, and it isn’t clear that his supporters would all do that anyway. Even if he does withdraw (and if he’s going to do it, Santorum needs him to do it before the next 12 states hold their primaries and caucuses over the next two weeks), Santorum is only superior to Romney as a candidate in terms of ideological rigor. Democrats have voted in open races for Santorum, but they didn’t deliver the victory to him in Michigan or Ohio, and if they couldn’t do it there, they won’t do it anywhere else.

Super Tuesday wasn’t super for any of the candidates, but while they all found bright spots of encouragement in the results, there was one clear winner: Mitt Romney. He won twice as many delegates as Santorum and his lead is commanding. There have been too many ups and downs in this campaign to declare him the winner yet, but he looks more and more like the inevitable nominee. Santorum can’t win the nomination. He can only hope that Romney loses it.

James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics and teaches economics at the Louisiana Scholars’ College in Natchitoches, La., where he went to take a break from working in Moscow and Washington. But he fell in love with the town and with the professor of Romance languages, so there he stayed. Now he teaches, annoys his children, and makes jalapeno lemonade. He thinks miracles are a poor substitute for good organization. He tweets, hangs out on Facebook, and has a blog he totally neglects at pichtblog.blogspot.com.

 


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Jim Picht

James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics and teaches economics and Russian at the Louisiana Scholars' College in Natchitoches, La. After earning his doctorate in economics, he spent several years working in Moscow and the new independent states of the former Soviet Union for the U.S. government, the Asian Development Bank, and as a private contractor. He returned to Ukraine recently to teach principles of constitutional law and criminal procedure at several Ukrainian law schools for a USAID legal development project. He has been writing at the Communities since 2009.

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