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February 09, 2012 5:00 PM Yes, It’s Still Romney, Probably Easily

By Jonathan Bernstein

Mitt Romney enters today…in excellent shape. To be sure, he’s already lost out on the goal of sweeping to an easy nomination in January and he’s been forced to fight through Super Tuesday…but that happened back in South Carolina; yesterday doesn’t change that. Romney has a comfortable delegate lead (although it’s far too early for that alone to be decisive). He’s been in the lead more often than not in national polls. He has a huge lead in money and endorsements. And recall (and yes, there are asterisks and loopholes on some of these):

Bob Dole in 1996 lost four of the first five states.

George W. Bush in 2000 lost three of the first seven.

John McCain in 2008 lost four of the first six, and five of the first eight.

The calendar continues to help him. He’s presumably going to win or finish second to Ron Paul in Maine; either way, he’ll pad his overall delegate lead (although those delegates won’t be chosen yet). Then, winner-take-all Arizona and winner-take-many Michigan on February 28, both states that should play very well for the Mittster.

What that means is what we’ve known for a while, but with slightly more uncertainty than before. That is, Mitt Romney will (almost certainly) head to Super Tuesday with a commanding grip on the nomination. He’ll have many advantages on that day. If he sweeps the day or close, it will be plain to everyone that the nomination is decided. If he has an OK day, he’ll still have a commanding lead. And if he has a bad day…then he’s still a clear leader for the nomination, but he enters the 1984 Mondale territory that Nate Silver sees likely. Again: all of that has been true since South Carolina.

The uncertainty? Maybe things go wrong on February 28. Maybe he has an awful day on Super Tuesday (winning only Massachusetts and Virginia). But none of that seems very likely. The truth is that Romney didn’t campaign much in yesterday’s states, and that’s not going to happen in the next round. Jonathan Chait got this right: Santorum bragged last night about the results proving what happens when he’s not outspent 5 to 1 or more by Romney, but the truth is he will be outspent by that much in every key state and most other states going forward.

Yes, I still think that Santorum is a lot more plausible as a nominee than Gingrich, but even after yesterday, he’s farther behind now than he was on January 1. As I said last night, he’s going to have to show a lot of things that he just hasn’t shown yet to move up to the point where he’d be a serious threat to win the nomination. Maybe that will happen; he’s certainly surprised everyone (including me) before, so it’s hard to write off even the possibility.

But the real thing to remember is that if the question we’re interested in is just who will be the Republican nominee for president, then it isn’t about winning every state, or winning every region, or winning with every constituency. It’s about winning the nomination. And for that, it still sure looks like it’s going to take some unexpected external shock for anyone but Romney to win it.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.

Comments

  • bcamarda on February 10, 2012 1:39 PM:

    All these institutional advantages don't obviate the reality that his party just doesn't want to nominate him.

    Everyone can see that the only way Romney has stayed on top of the heap has been to destroy those of his adversaries who did not self-destruct on their own. The voters are noticing, and I don't think it'll work with Santorum. People certainly aren't going to buy an insider-outsider contrast that presents Santorum as the insider and Romney as the outsider; that's as laughable as it is transparent.

    With the flat-out awful couple of weeks Romney has had, the polls no longer support his claim that he is more electable (even if the political pros think so, and are probably correct). Meanwhile, after six years of watching Romney campaign, we've come to the point where the man's absolute inability to articulate a vision has become utterly inescapable (just as Ted Kennedy's inability to explain why he wanted to be President in 1980 pretty much destroyed his campaign against Carter.) Even if he cobbles together a vision now, who'll believe he means it?

    I think Romney's campaign has run off the cliff and we all just haven't realized it yet.

  • hells littlest angel on February 11, 2012 10:29 AM:

    A month ago, Romney was routinely characterized as the "presumptive nominee." The fact that people are now arguing his chances makes it pretty clear that a lot has changed. Too many political reporters and pundits just can't bring themselves to address Romney's huge problem -- his public personality is flat-out odious. (Funny that so many of them had no difficulty attacking Al Gore on a deeply personal, yet politically shallow level.)

    I might change my mind if he wins overwhelmingly in Michigan, but I don't think he will.

  • economist on February 15, 2012 4:55 PM:

    Unfortunately for Mr. Romney, and perhaps Mr. Bernstein, it looks as though Mittens will lose Michigan outright, and Arizona will be a close race. Ohio (arguably the most important state on Super Tuesday) is polling as an outright loss for Mittens as well. What a difference a few days makes!

  • T2 on February 15, 2012 5:47 PM:

    if Santorum wins Ohio and Michigan the GOP elite will go berserk. And Santorum may also. How can a guy who lost his last race in PA by 19% be this close to the GOP nomination? The only reasonable explanation is that the Republican Party is a stinker.

  • Rob S on February 15, 2012 10:20 PM:

    Approximately this point in 2008 the pundits were discussing the implosion of the Democratic Party, given the ugliness of the Hillary / Obama feud. Ultimately, it didn't implode. Like the Democrats in '08 with their anybody-but-Bush candidate, Republicans will galvanize their support around their anybody-but-Obama candidate, most likely Romney.

    Ultimately, it may not matter. With gas prices expected to be at their highest levels ever this summer, and the associated impact to everyone's wallets (not to mention the detrimental impact to the economy as a whole), Obama will have his work cut out for him in November, regardless of who he faces in the election.