Our View: GOP Primary Picture Clears With Romney Michigan Win

March 1, 2012

After yet another bruising GOP primary contest, frontrunner Mitt Romney managed to eke out a slim victory over Rick Santorum – the latest Romney rival to be test-driven by the persistent “anybody-but-Romney” faction within the GOP.

Gage Skidmore /Free Photos

Santorum’s defeat in Michigan’s Tuesday statewide vote makes it increasingly unlikely that the former Pennsylvania Senator will be able to muster sufficient momentum to break through in the Super Tuesday states next week.

Poised to score a major upset victory in one of Mitt Romney’s many home states (the other three are Utah, Massachusetts, and most recently New Hampshire as far as we can tell), Santorum managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by transforming a double digit lead on February 15 into a loss at the polls two weeks later.

To be fair, Santorum faced a steep resource disadvantage in Michigan, where he was outspent 5 to 1.  And his defenders are quick to add that the Pennsylvania Senator lost by just four points despite this crippling disadvantage in resources.  But there are no points in American politics for finishing second, regardless of how long the odds might be.

It’s also important to note that Santorum wasn’t just defeated by Romney’s superior campaign or overstuffed war chest.  Santorum’s own unforced errors arguably played a far greater role in his Michigan collapse.  Politico’s Maggie Haberman put it more succinctly:  “Rick Santorum lost his last Senate race in Pennsylvania by 18 points, and the week leading up to the Michigan vote was a reminder why.”

Recent news coverage is replete with examples of Santorum’s self-inflicted wounds:   A partnership with the far left in trying to mobilize liberal Democrats to hijack the GOP primary, his bizarre characterization of President Obama as a “snob” for suggesting that every student ought to aspire to college, and his decision to tango with the late John F. Kennedy.  And we haven’t even mentioned contraception.

Senator Santorum will be carrying the baggage he picked up during the Michigan contest well beyond the Wolverine State line.  As GOP strategist Curt Anderson told Politico “Santorum is now badly wounded by both self-inflicted blows and body blows from Romney.  A wounded Santorum is now all that stands between Romney and the nomination.

Mr. Anderson is only half right.  Given Mr. Santorum’s recent foibles, and the political geography of the upcoming competitive primary contests, Newt Gingrich (remember him) may actually be better positioned than Santorum to impede Romney’s march on Super Tuesday.  Regardless of which man ends up being the preferred “anybody-but-Romney” candidate come next week, he will face long odds.  And the odds Ron Paul faces – well – let’s just say they are longer than anything you’d see at one of Sheldon Adelson’s casinos.

We have always believed that the GOP would benefit from a wide open, free-wheeling and extended primary.  And that’s exactly what we’ve had so far.  The contests have winnowed the field and tested the skills of Governor Romney, who has solidified his position as the presumptive GOP nominee.

To be sure, Mr. Romney has yet to connect with many rank and file Republicans who are skeptical about his conservative credentials.  But the battle-hardened former Massachusetts governor is undeniably looking more and more like the GOP’s best option for what promises to be a hard-hitting and expensive general election contest with Barack Obama.

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