As we political junkies finally wind down after a very (very, VERY) long night, we essentially find ourselves right back where we started. For all the drawn out drama of the Super Tuesday contests, very little has actually changed. Mitt Romney is still the accepted front runner, Rick Santorum is still nipping at his heels, Newt Gingrich had just enough success to keep on plugging, and Ron Paul still finds himself without a victory.
The states fell more or less as expected, with Gingrich and Romney dominating their respective home states, and Santorum doing well in the South. The big kahuna (and the only real nail-biter) in this six-pack was Ohio, which had been a statistical dead heat in the polls between Romney and Santorum all week, and remained so after the votes were tallied.
Although Romney squeaked ahead to win by the narrowest of margins, the fact that he nearly didn’t is making his campaign staff pretty nervous. It’s still painfully obvious that the voters haven’t rallied around him yet, despite the public missteps of Rick Santorum during recent news cycles. To see the GOP vote remaining so divided is undoubtedly causing some sleepless nights for the party’s leaders.
Tuesday’s results would indicate a voter base that suffers from multiple personalities, and at the moment that’s probably close to the truth. But I suspect that they’re on the cusp of pulling it together.
There simply aren’t enough viable or likely paths left for either Paul or Gingrich at this point, and despite their dogged tenacity, they don’t seem like probable nominees, especially when taking into account the new rules for proportional delegate allocation that are in play in many places. And as well as Santorum is doing with some groups (namely the ultra-right wing members of the base), it seems that many of the more pragmatic voters are supporting Romney. For all the twists and turns this process has taken, it has been Romney who has been the steadiest and the best prepared, in terms of finances and organization, as the race drags on.
Romney began this campaign as the “inevitable” nominee. While there have been moments that seemingly shook that premise up, he is still the inevitable winner when all is said and done. And once this becomes official, the Romney enthusiasm gap affecting voters will no longer matter.
The GOP wants to unseat the president, and they want to do it pretty badly. They may have been holding out hope for an “anyone but Romney” candidate to magically materialize, but that’s not gonna happen. Once the general election hits and Mitt is their man, they’ll be happy enough to shift their mantra to “anyone but Obama” instead.
This is why Democrats would be wise not to gloat too much about the way things have gone up to now. Sure, the Republican candidates are cannibalizing one another, making all the wrong moves and saying all the wrong things. But come November, all of that will be over and none of it will matter. That doesn’t mean to say that Obama won’t be reelected, because his chances right now are as good as they’ve been in recent memory. It just means that even if he does win, it won’t be because it was easy, no matter how weak or divided the Republican field seems at the moment.