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March 07, 2012 8:38 AM Mitt’s Glass Half Empty

By Ed Kilgore

By any objective measurement, Mitt Romney should be deemed the clear “winner” of Super Tuesday. He won six of the ten contests (MA, VT, VA, OH, ID and AK), with victories in the Northeast, South, Midwest and West. He won a majority of the delegates at stake, which in turn keeps him on a pace to win the nomination. One of his losses—in GA—is arguably good for him because it keeps Newt Gingrich in the race to split the non-Romney vote.

Yet here is the lede on the day’s results from Politico’s Jonathan Martin, under the headline “Mitt Romney’s Rough Road To Tampa:”

Mitt Romney’s weaknesses show no sign of going away.
He struggles in the South and with evangelical voters. He’s not conservative enough. He loses among rural voters and with voters down the economic scale.
All of his flaws were on full display Tuesday as he failed to wrap up the GOP nomination on an evening when it was within his grasp.

It’s not completely clear to me what expectation Romney failed to meet, other than perhaps in Tennessee, where some handicappers thought he might pull off a late upset. But somehow, a combination of unusually solid wins by his opponents in GA, TN and OK, and Santorum’s early lead in OH, made the evening something else. If you didn’t know better, you’d almost think some of the stories were written before half the results were in, wouldn’t you?

I’ll have more to say about Super Tuesday later, but the bottom line is that Romney won Super Tuesday but seems to be losing the spin wars over its meaning. And for a candidate whose elite opinion-leader backing remains perhaps his most important asset other than cash, that matters.

UPDATE: Just ran across this quote from Mike Murphy, one of those “genius” political consultants that so often dominate election night coverage, that sums up the disconnect between Romney’s performance on Super Tuesday and how it’s being perceived:

“This race operates on two levels,” said Murphy. “There’s the delegate reality, which is very, very important, and I think Romney had a strong night. He started ahead. He finished more ahead. The challenge for Mitt though, I think, is there’s also the narrative side of this, the who’s winning, who’s losing story, and there I think he had a bumpy night. Didn’t have a big loss, won a lot of states, won some a little easily, won some a little surprisingly.”

The “narrative side of this.” Very interesting, and quite telling that Murphy felt he had to make the case for the “delegate reality” being “very, very important,” since that, mechanically, is how people get nominated for president.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • rrk1 on March 07, 2012 8:58 AM:

    Yes, Romney, in an objective sense, won Super Tuesday. But he needed to win big. He needed to land a knockout punch on Santorum. He didn't. He's limping to Tampa. And the circular firing squad will continue firing. Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch. What a joy this is to watch.

  • John on March 07, 2012 9:01 AM:

    It is basically impossible for Mitt to win the spin wars, because the media has a vested interest in pretending there's a real race for as long as it's even vaguely plausible to do so.

  • T2 on March 07, 2012 9:03 AM:

    Ed, you ask this question: "Itís not completely clear to me what expectation Romney failed to meet" after you've already answered it:
    "keeps Newt Gingrich in the race to split the non-Romney vote"

    Adding Gingrich and Santorum votes together would doom Romney. The "Expectation" Mitt fails to meet is the one where he is the choice of the Republican Party to run for president. He is, obviously, not.
    I've come to realize, in the wake of Super Tuesday, that it is not the terrible slate of GOP candidates that is the failure here......it's the terrible mind-set of GOP voters. When Richard Santorum is the winner in any state, that state's Republican population is just plain crazy.

  • Danp on March 07, 2012 9:04 AM:

    The problem here is that Romney only wins in places where there are more Dems. It could be that urbanites are too tolerant to accept a Santorum or Gingrich, but it could also be that a lot of rural Republicans are only voting now, because they won't vote for him in November.

  • walt on March 07, 2012 9:20 AM:

    Romney is going to be the nominee. Even if he lost Ohio last night, that would still be true. The problem is that these primaries underscore how unlikable and tone-deaf he is. Working-class voters don't like him because he communicates over and over what a rich swell he is. The narrative here is important because it's one that Romney is not going to reinvent or overcome. The narrative is Romney's ball and chain going into November and it makes him a terrible candidate.

  • kevo on March 07, 2012 9:27 AM:

    Emotional, not so savvy voters tend to lead with their perceptions when entering the ballot booth! If Mitt is seen as a wealthy twit, he's dead meat in a general election! -Kevo

  • Ken on March 07, 2012 9:29 AM:

    I can see the workin' press hoping for a drwan out Primary; it gives them fodder to fill air time for teh next few weeks.

    O/T, but is the website that "commented" just ahead of me a potential new Limbaugh sponsor?

  • John Dillinger on March 07, 2012 9:41 AM:

    I think what the guys like Murphy are saying is that because there is nothing approaching love by the more conservative elements of the base for Romney, he needs time for it to sink in that he is going to be the nominee, and the only alternative to four more years of the Kenyan Muslim appeaser antichrist. The longer this drags out, the shorter time period the base will have to get used to that idea. And, because there is very little establishment support for the other three candidates, there is very little establishment leverage to ease any of them out of the race. It used to be that if you lost a string of states by double digits you'd go home so as to not damage your future political career. And that is what Perry and company did. But none of the remaining challengers have a political career. And because of their Superpacs, they can continue to travel around, run a few TV ads, and run the skeleton of a campaign at least, even if they don't have the organization to field full delegate slate. So as long at there remain states which Santorum and Gingrich have a shot at winning, they will stick around and provide us our Tuesday night cable TV news channel entertainment.

  • Anonymous on March 07, 2012 9:44 AM:

    Working-class voters don't like him because he communicates over and over what a rich swell he is.

    You mean like holding his campaign's super Tuesday victory gathering in an upscale Boston hotel? Meanwhile, Santorum was holding his in a high school gymnasium in a blue collar part of Ohio.

  • Just Guessing on March 07, 2012 9:54 AM:

    I think a big part of Romney's problem with many voters is the fact that he hasn't actually done anything the last few years except run around trying to become President. Yes he was a "successful" businessman but that apparently hasn't developed into anything else that looks like it gives back to society. As a result he just looks like he is an arrogant prick that expects people to help him fullfill his own dream to become President. And he wants this because? I have no idea other than his oversized, arrogant ego. GOod luck with that Mitt.

  • ceilidth on March 07, 2012 9:55 AM:

    I think you are missing the underlying question. If Romney ends up in a nail biter with a man who accused single moms of breeding criminals and condemned contraception even among married couples, what can you say about the strength of his support?

  • Gaius Gracchus on March 07, 2012 9:55 AM:

    The only, besides the media's need for a horserace, that is keeping the race alive is the anti-Mormonism of the Evangelicals in the Republican party. They hate Mormons (because the Mormons are keeping folks away from the mega churches of the Evangelicals) and are bad for their business model. They are very afraid that a Mormon president would really increase interest in the LDS church and how can they party for the huge churches, houses, cars, and jets if they can't get people to give them money?

  • Just a guy on March 07, 2012 10:14 AM:

    I believe the "narrative side" is more accurately called the "Republican Fantasyland Psychosis" side.

  • j on March 07, 2012 10:30 AM:

    To put it simply, people are just not that into Mittens.

  • Josef K on March 07, 2012 11:02 AM:

    Let's all hope the Republican voter can and does grasp the "mechanics" of this absurd process. There's been a demonstrated decline (at least rhetorically) in their - dare I say - tolerance of nuance and complexity. It may well go beyond their apparently negative perceptions of Romney and lead to a wholesale revolt between the establishment Republicans and the grass-roots.

    Frankly speaking, I half-expect all out chaos on the convention floor.

  • The DeMBA on March 07, 2012 11:12 AM:

    The issue for Romney is which states he won, and how.

    Include only competitive states, and the picture changes dramatically. (e.g., take out home states where one of the candidates has held elective office and states where not all the candidates were on the ballot.)

    The only large, competitive state Romney won was Ohio, where he outspent Santorum 5-1 for a 1-point lead. Santorum won in two large states, Oklahoma and Tennessee; the other states do matter for delegate count but matter very little psychologically, and do little to build the image of Romney as a solid political candidate.

    Based on Tuesday, I don't see Gingrinch or Santorum having any greater incentive to exit the contest.

  • jehrler on March 07, 2012 11:26 AM:

    I think danp nails it.

    Romney is not winning in the red states and, even in the blue/purple states, he is eking out victories. Republican voter enthusiasm on the top and the bottom of the ticket will be left wanting, particularly if he begins trailing badly as Obama makes mince meat out of him with Obama's $$ for ads and debate style.

  • The DeMBA on March 07, 2012 12:01 PM:

    One more observation.

    In the competitive states (everyone on the ballot, no one who used to hold office there), Romney got 747,567 votes. Santorum got 774,454, 26,887 or 3.6% more than Mitt.

    This is the core of Mitt's weakness - despite being the putative front-runner the whole time, despite being the candidate of "I just want the primaries to end already", despite dramatically outspending Santorum, despite Santorum's tendancy to get pulled into unnecessary culture war rhetoric, not only can't he seal the deal, he can't even get more votes when folks have a real choice.

  • debg on March 07, 2012 12:02 PM:

    OT: Ed, I'm a lurker by nature but will step out of my shell here. I'm so glad you took over for Steve Benen. He's fantastic, and it's wonderful that he's still writing too. But if he hadn't moved on, I might never have "discovered" you. Your posts have been great.

  • ed bardell on March 07, 2012 12:58 PM:

    It's hard for reporters to avoid being editorialists.
    The facts are clear, as you say, Romney was the winner.
    But its hard not to see, also,
    that Romney only won two states by a majority (...
    ok, three, if we include Virginia, where his opponents
    were dumb and did not get on the ballot) .. so
    Romney only won 3 states by majority, and all others,
    including the big Ohio win, were won
    by only about 1 in 3 votes. 38% in Ohio.
    Romney won all Ohio delegates despite 62% of the voters
    voting against him!
    How's that for representational democracy?
    Other Romney wins: 33% (Ak) 39% (Vt)
    One is tempted to think that the headlines are correct.
    Except I remember that the press LOVES a long fight.
    On the other hand
    Romney, Santorum, and Paul (for his own reasons),
    will see this as a case to contine to obtain delegates
    so that THEY can broker a broken convention.
    I do not see Gingrich nor Santorum quitting now.
    and Paul (for his own reasons) likely is hanging on.
    so
    maybe the headlines are correct.
    this will be a long slog.

  • CDW on March 07, 2012 1:23 PM:

    tsk, tsk. Have a little more empathy, Ed. What's a pundit to say after all these months reviewing the show. He can't say what everybody is thinking about the goper lineup - he's not Barbara Bush. But he has to keep up the pretense so he points out that the candidate with the most delegates wins.

  • JS on March 07, 2012 3:44 PM:

    Here's the thing about Romney leading in the "automatic delegates"... he's ahead by some measures, but Romney is not winning the key segments of the voting population that are going to determine if the Republicans can unseat Obama in the fall.

    Santorum is clearing winning among the hard-working Americans, the white Americans that a Republican can't win Ohio without, and no Republican has ever won the Presidency without winning in Ohio.

    It's technically true that Romney is winning more states, but is any Republican really going to take places like Vermont, Washington, Michigan, and Massachusetts in the fall? Meanwhile Rick Santorum has won key battleground states like Minnesota, Iowa and Colorado that must be in the Republican column for victory in November.

    Santorum is even winning these states despite being outspent overwhelmingly in all of these places - if Romney can out-spend Santorum 10-1 in campaign ads - and still can't put away the nomination? I say that shows a fatal weakness in Romney's electability.

    Finally, what's with all the rush in calling for the nomination process to end? We've just got started. Over half the states have yet to be heard from, and no candidate has yet won even half the delegates needed to clinch the nomination. There's been many examples of primary campaigns running into June. Bill Clinton didn't wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? Everyone should remember that Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.

    I don't understand what the rush is all about to declare this primary over.