Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Yes, It's Still Romney, Probably Easily

Mitt Romney enters 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.


  1. But it's not the destination that counts, it's the journey. The fix is still in for Mr. Inevitable, but the more he gets beat up in the primaries, the less he gets to keep his mouth shut before he tries to swing to the center after the convention.

  2. I'm not so sure why people are confident about Mitt in Michigan. Yeah, his dad was governor, but he is not his dad.

    If I were Santorum I would run an endless loop of Romney's comments about the Detroit auto industry (if I had the money!) and see what happens. It seems like Santorum's social conservatism mixed with the Rust Belt economic populism would play well with Michigan Republicans.

  3. While I agree that Romney seems the likely nominee, I base that on my (limited) knowledge of precedent; it strikes me that we may believe in the past because we're not sure which side of the looking glass we're on. FWIW, I find the historic comparisons to last night entirely unpersuasive; Dole barely lost NH and a couple of incongruous early caucuses (one he didn't contest), Bush's 3 included the obvious NH and even more obvious Arizona, and 2 of McCain's losses were Mormon-friendly Wyoming and Nevada. None compares with the bizarre shellacking Romney took last night.

    Here's a frame that may be useful: going into last night's caucuses, let's assume that 90% or so of the Minnesota GOP either actively (or grudgingly) recognized Romney Inevitability, either because they believed it in their minds or read about it on blogs such as this. Perhaps 5% of the Minnesota GOP believed in Santorum, with the last 5 split between Gingrich and Paul.

    No big deal so far, after all Romney carried the state in '08, he had the endorsement of the sitting Republican governor, and he outspent Santorum 40 to 1, (regardless of the spin today that he "didn't try"!). Last night they caucused, and as nervous Romney-endorser John Hinderaker reminds us, only 5% of the Minnesota GOP put up with listening to their neighbors to cast a vote.

    Santorum got 45% of that vote, or roughly 2% of the state GOP (2% ~ 45%*5%). Romney got 17% of that vote, or around 1% of the state GOP (1% ~ 17%*5%).
    Thus, about 40% of the Santorum believers (40% = 2%/5%) put up with last night's caucus; while a mere 1% of the Romney believers did (1% = 1%/90%).

    Given Romney's money advantage, endorsement advantage, and prior electoral success advantage, it occurs to me that's a result almost unlike anything we've ever seen before, and certainly not in the last 3 contested cycles. What happens next?

    I don't think anyone really knows.

    1. I was already wondering how comparisons to Dole and McCain were supposed to make him feel better. You make it even more depressing for him.

      Just a minor quibble. Pawlenty isn't the sitting governor. He stepped down after two terms in 2010, and a Democrat is governor now.

    2. Scott - you're obviously right about Pawlenty. Don't know about anyone else, but I have the impression that my own egregious stream of consciousness goofs are correlated with the enjoyment of writing the wrong thing.

      For example, its so much more fun to write "the sitting Republican governor" (with appropriate venom when spitting out "sitting") than the more accurate "some guy who used to be governor".

  4. It could just be that this is what nominating a very weak candidate looks like. There will be hints and intimations of his weakness along the way, even as he (mostly) dominates the nominating contest -- en route to getting crushed in the general.

    Or not! We'll see. :-)

  5. I don't think anyone can beat Romney before the convention, but I do think the possibility of Romney not having a majority of delegates in hand before the convention has increased.

  6. Romney has had too many failures; failure swirls around in his mind just like Black Obama strips out a teabaggers' reason (oxymoron? well some kind of moron, for sure). He's now given to gaffes like never before which indicates panic and reactionism. He will blunder again. Open convention seems more and more likely. If Jeb is stupid enough to take a brokered nomination, Romney is his VP. Such precise death spirals are rare and have a unique beauty about them that cause the observers to gasp in wonder.


  7. It’s still very important to note that Santorum has nowhere near the resources he’ll need to seriously contest the 13 states on the 28th and super Tuesday. I know he bragged that he raised 250k overnight after his sweep on Tuesday, which sounds like a lot to you or me, but that will barely get him out the gate to buy TV points in a major market like Phoenix or Detroit, and that still leaves the rest of those states and the other 11 states untouched. Let alone the money and staff to cover all that ground with offices, field staff, advance people ect. Romney is simply on a different level of campaign resources than Santorum and unless that changes it will be very, very hard for him to compete.


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