Usually, American politics is NOT full of surprises. Yes: you have scandals and the occasional natural disaster, but on the large scale, elections go off without a hitch, transitions of power occur without bloodshed and you can even prepare yourself for close elections since the polls have been warning you for weeks in advance.
But this morning, at 1:00 a.m., when CNN was given the exclusive scoop by the Colorado Republican party that Rick Santorum had won that state’s primary, and thus had completed a three state sweep of all GOP contests on Tuesday the world was legitimately surprised. By the time most of America had woken up, the Republican race for the party’s nominee changed radically.
Watch the Rhetoric
Over the next 24 hours you’re going to hear phrases like “Game Changer”, “Big Mo (mentum)”, “Dogfight” and a whole slew of other metaphors, similies and adjectives to describe what happened to the GOP race. And they will all be correct. There is literally no way to describe just how insane last night’s results are historically and in the here and now for the Republican Party.
Right now you have Mitt Romney with the most money and 10% of the delegates needed (he’s got a little over 100 and you need a little over 1,000) to secure the nomination – but he only has two primary victories. One in New Hampshire, a state that borders Massachusetts where he was governor, and then in Florida a state where he put up 13,000 ads and spent millions to blow away the competition and still didn’t get 50% of the vote.
Newt Gingrich has only won one state, South Carolina, and wasn’t even on the ballot in Missouri for last night’s contest, but has vowed to march all the way to the August convention before he’ll quit.
Ron Paul who has yet to win one contest, caucus or primary, is third place in the delegate count and still refuses to drop out.
And finally you have Rick Santorum, who in one of the most improbable upsets in recent political memory has 4 primary victories, despite having no money, no organization, low popularity and coming in 4th place in Nevada just 48 hours before winning Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado. What will the press and punditocracy make of this? If the narrative is that this is a real race, Super Tuesday becomes important and Romney is in trouble. If the rhetoric is that tonight was a blip and that Romney still has a tactical if not emotional advantage this might all die down by the weekend.
The Truth About Romney
People don’t like him – and it really doesn’t matter why. It could be his flip-flopping on social issues, his inability to articulate a plan for the economy, his healthcare plan as governor, his consistent tin ear to the needs of regular and poor people, his years as a ‘vulture capitalist’ in Bain Capital and, yes, maybe it’s because he’s a Mormon too.
But somehow and some way Mitt Romney is not liked by enough Republicans to mount a significant challenge to Barack Obama this fall and that is the clear writing on the wall. Romney is attractive, articulate and has a great resume, but so far he has shown that unless he is running a neighboring state or can make it rain on his opponents with negative ads by the bucket load he can’t carry a state when turnout levels are sometimes half what they were in 2008. The numbers tell the tale: Romney got fewer Iowa votes in 2012 than in 2008. Romney has just lost two states, Colorado and Minnesota, that he carried healthily in 2008. Although he has been the frontrunner since the summer of 2011, his national support amongst the GOP primary faithful has never been higher than about 40%.
He will still win the Republican nomination because he has more money and a larger more extensive organization than his opponents, but at this point he’s so incredibly weak, so poorly defined and so disconnected from his base that it’s hard to see him mounting a credible challenge to Obama outside of a serious downturn in the economy.