Bill Kristol says it's just getting started. Sarah Palin says all bets are off. Other GOP luminaries say that so far, what they've seen has been "a collective yawn." What are they talking about? The GOP race for the 2012 presidential nomination, that's what. And all of these assessments have been handed down from on high in the wake of Super Tuesday's results.
But wasn't Super Tuesday a pretty unequivocal win for Mitt Romney, leaving him as the only candidate with a path to the nomination that doesn't require a series of miraculous events?
Well, sure, if you're going to be all realistic and practical about it, concentrating only on fundamental factors like Romney's swollen war chest and his superior organization and the likelihood of him having success in the backloaded winner-take-all primaries to come and his current delegate count. But if you do like most of the media has done, and stare into the blinding lights of cloudcuckooland and allow yourself to be dazzled by all the SHINY SHINY so that you get a little light-headed and trippy, then maybe you can see that Romney's big wins Tuesday night were actually some sort of devastating setback.
OH, WE GET IT. You want to "keep things in perspective." You read Nate Silver's curtain-raiser on Super Tuesday, where he projected that Romney would likely net 224 delegates, and he won 213, and surely we're not going to start tearing our eyes out over the fact that he underperformed by eleven delegates. Well, did you go on reading? If you had you'd have seen that Silver's "upside scenario" was 267 delegates. So what's Mitt Romney's fatal flaw, that prevented him from succeeding as successfully as he could? Ron Paul stole three delegates in Virginia, after all!
Look. The important thing to realize is that the people who cover politics hate it when the game gets called early. Yes, Romney has the clearest path to the nomination. Rick Santorum, who remains in the next best position to win, would have to either win a staggeringly high portion of the remaining delegates or benefit from some sort of unforeseen Romney mega-mistake that causes the complete collapse of his support in order to get to 1,144 delegates and win the thing outright. But he (as well as Newt Gingrich) have not technically been mathematically eliminated, and coming up soon are contests in Mississippi and Alabama, where Romney is likely to lose. And if we squint at that at just the right angle, maybe Romney is actually in total disarray.
But if we're looking at this with clear eyes, it's actually become apparent that Mitt Romney is no longer running in a contest against Santorum, Gingrich and Paul as his competition. His only opponent now is the faint specter of a deadlocked convention. It's more likely, at this point, that his three co-competitors can deny Romney the 1,144 votes than it is that any one of them can overtake him and win them for themselves.
And that's the story of Super Tuesday. Which is now over! Welcome to much less super part of the primary season.
In other news from the campaign trail, Newt's exhaustion led to an awkward naptime, Mitt's Olympic-sized round of government gold-digging came back to haunt him, Santorum-speculators offered a bright assessment of his political future, President Obama may end up with an enemy delegate at his convention, and we're left to wonder -- are pollsters giving Ron Paul the stink-eye? All of this and more is waiting for you to enter the Speculatron for the week of March 9, 2012.
So, let's review. Mitt Romney rode five straight wins into Super Tuesday, where he notched six more wins, including a come-from-behind victory in the "everyone says it's pivotal OMG OMG" Ohio, ensuring that he'd take the lion's share of the delegates and increase his lead over the rest of the field. Along the way, it's clear that he's being held in growing esteem by conservative voters, including Senator Tom Coburn, who gave Romney his endorsement with the message that no subject is more important than the economy this year. He's even doing decidedly better this year than John McCain did in 2008. All of this has allowed the Romney camp to make the perfectly reasonable claim that he's going to be the inevitable winner, and renew a call for his rivals to quit the race. And the truth is, Romney has all the advantages that come from being an exceedingly well-organized and cash-infused campaign. As Katrina Trinko reports, all of that trumps the fleeting momentum of Romney's rivals. But as it turned out, it was easy enough for the media to ignore this, and call Romney's Super Tuesday victory a "split decision." Sigh. Of course, the reasons for doing so are pretty transparent. Coming up on the calendar are a pair of primaries in Alabama and Mississippi, where Romney is not (and never has been) expected to do well. So we're all in thrall to the coming "Deep South narrative," where Santorum and Gingrich get to demonstrate a brief burst of vitality and the overall storyline gets another timely twist to keep the excitement alive. Jonathan Chait notes that this coming narrative is really stupid: [Romney's] struggles with Evangelicals and the South are the opposite of a problem. Obviously, you want all the votes you can get. But if you're in a competitive primary, you're by definition not getting all the voters on your side. And the best group of voters not to be getting are voters who are certain to support you in the fall. But Romney isn't completely untouched or unscathed by the ongoing race, either. Right now, he still faces something of an "image problem" that's "worse than almost all other recent candidates who went on to win their party's presidential nomination." The prevailing factor remains the perception among conservatives that he's not one of them, but there are other factors in play as well. For example, Romney hasn't yet broken through with evangelical voters. Perhaps more importantly, he's still only broadly appealing to the affluent and not to working-class voters. None of this will impede his nomination, but it could impact his appeal among independents once the general election arrives, and he's getting attacked as the "Swiss bank account" candidate. (This is a good time to wonder why the Romney campaign is having Donald Trump robo-call America.) It's also getting harder and harder for Romney to put some distance between himself and his Massachusetts healthcare reform initiative -- especially his affection for mandates and the fact that he touted his plan as a model for the nation (which has now become a model for the nation). And despite casting himself as the only Washington outsider in the race, it seems that he's got enough inside knowledge of the Beltway money game to have extracted all manner of pork for his Winter Olympics. And he's bragged about soaking taxpayers as well. Meanwhile, more details on Romney's tax plan continue to emerge, including a reminder that it mostly favors wealthy people, especially wealthy people like this dude named "Mitt Romney" that you may have heard about. On top of that, it turns out his tax plan can't be scored by the CBO, because Romney made sure to leave "out all the hard stuff." On foreign policy, Romney has basically hinted that he'd temporarily abandon the effort to bring about peace between Israel and the Palestinians, saying that "talking about a peace process right now is a bit like setting up a tent in the middle of a hurricane ... there has to be some settling down of a number of questions, I think, before the peace process is going to get its legs again." Yeah, okay, let's definitely put that off for a few more years, why not? Meanwhile, in Iran, Romney promised to step up the military belligerence, writing in an op-ed: I will take every measure necessary to check the evil regime of the ayatollahs. Until Iran ceases its nuclear-bomb program, I will press for ever-tightening sanctions, acting with other countries if we can but alone if we must. I will speak out on behalf of the cause of democracy in Iran and support Iranian dissidents who are fighting for their freedom. I will make clear that America's commitment to Israel's security and survival is absolute. I will demonstrate our commitment to the world by making Jerusalem the destination of my first foreign trip. Most important, I will buttress my diplomacy with a military option that will persuade the ayatollahs to abandon their nuclear ambitions. Only when they understand that at the end of that road lies not nuclear weapons but ruin will there be a real chance for a peaceful resolution. Former Mossad director Efraim Halevy told The Huffington Post's Joshua Hersh that this is not actually helping: "This means to an Iranian, if you will wait until another few months and there is a change in the White House, then maybe there will be trouble, so the lesson is, Let's redouble our efforts to do it as quickly as we can," Halevy said. "In the effort to demolish the president he is making the situation worse." [...] "I think people have to be extremely careful with the way they speak," he added. "I don't have any bones about who wins the election, but what Romney has done is a serious problem here. It causes serious issues here."
Rick Santorum's Super Tuesday results didn't enable him to come out and break Mitt Romney's stride in the same fashion as his win in Colorado did. He ended up taking Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota, so he added wins and delegates. But in the state of Ohio, Santorum watched as his big lead in the polls was whittled down, culminating in a tight Romney win. Because everyone likes to stand around with wide eyes and remind everyone that no one's won the Republican nomination since whenever without winning Ohio, this contest had long been designated the night's pivotal match. But Santorum had ample reasons -- beyond the creeping death that Romney's money machine brings to all other campaigns -- to downplay expectations ahead of the polls closing. Even if Santorum had won the statewide vote, the candidate was unable to "get a full state of delegates on the ballots in nine congressional districts in Ohio," which meant his potential delegate haul from Ohio was limited before the voting ever began. Santorum's failure in Ohio is just another example of the limits you face while running a shoestring campaign. And he's got organization problems ahead of him, as he struggles to get ballot access in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Despite having taken the opposite position a few weeks ago, what Santorum would very much like to do is get Newt Gingrich knocked from the race, so that he could take on Romney one-on-one-on-Ron Paul. As it happens, his chances aren't terrible: Gingrich has conceded that he'll lose Kansas, Santorum is up slightly in Alabama, and he's hoping to prevail in Mississippi. If Gingrich were denied wins in the Deep South, it would be hard to see why he should stay in the race. And Santorum has continued his attacks on Mitt Romney's history of inventing "ObamaCare." As Katrina Trinko reports: "Mitt Romney passed government-mandated health insurance in Massachusetts, and argued and tried to persuade the president in this debate in 2009 to adopt his government-mandated health care system for the federal government," Santorum said in a conference call with reporters, presumably alluding to Romney's 2009 USA Today piece that's been circulating throughout media reports today. Romney, he continued, had "misled the public as to what his position was" on health care. "To continue to mislead," Santorum added, "and to try to obfuscate by just throwing negative ads at someone, and not having to respond to the fact that he was an advocate for something he says he wasn't, is further evidence that conservatives will not trust him, will not rally around him through this primary season, and ultimately, I don't care how much money he will spend, we will be the nominee." He's also accusing Romney of interesting conspiracies! Per Igor Volsky: During an appearance on Laura Ingraham's radio show this morning, Rick Santorum suggested that Mitt Romney's campaign pressured USA Today to remove a now-infamous 2009 op-ed, in which the former governor urged President Obama to "learn" lessons from Massachusetts' health care reform plan and use "tax penalties" to avoid "free riders" in the system. The article -- first uncovered by BuzzFeed -- is not on the paper's website and was only discovered through "the former Governor's old website via the web archive." "I don't know how that happens," Santorum exclaimed to Ingraham. Santorum has also been forced to be a lot nicer to Guam, because suddenly their delegates could be quite useful to him. Hey, Santorum is already on his presidential "apology tour," bowing to people from Guam. It raises the question: How will he face Ahmadinejad if he can't stand up to Guam?! (Ha, just kidding. Or are we?) And of course, Santorum isn't happy about President Obama's tendency not to drop thousands of bombs on Iran: "He says he has Israel's back ... From everything I've seen from the conduct of this administration, he has turned his back on the people of Israel." If getting a bunch of bunker-busters are what you get from Obama when his back is turned, we wonder what you get otherwise. What is Rick Santorum's future? For the time being, he's trying to maintain his mostly implausible path to the nomination and/or his slightly more possible path to being a guy who forces a deadlocked convention. But Alex Pareene wonders if he hasn't already secured the "next in line" status that would allow him to consider himself the frontrunner in 2016. Which assumes Obama wins, which is by no means a done deal. So it's also time to start wondering if Santorum isn't VP material.
Ron Paul had an entirely different version of Super Tuesday than the rest of the world. While everyone was obsessing over Ohio and Oklahoma and Georgia, Paul was running game up in North Dakota and Alaska, and working to hold down Romney's support in Virginia. The results were a mixed bag: Paul's hoped-for first win continued to elude him, as North Dakota went to Rick Santorum and Alaska went to Romney. Still, he did steal some delegates in other states, beat Newt Gingrich in numerous states, and was hard on Santorum's heels elsewhere. (While he only bested Romney in North Dakota, he could take solace in the fact that he's won the support of some members of Romney's extended family.) In other words, Paul's "slow and steady" plan is still in effect, and as John Avlon notes, Paul is still a big player in terms of his ability to affect the underlying dynamics of the race: But Super Tuesday totals could begin a shift from the Paul campaign's caucus strategy to a delegate strategy. It's the day when Paul could start to adjust the narrative just a bit by creeping ahead of Newt Gingrich in total delegates. Right now, Gingrich is one delegate ahead of Paul in the totals -- 39 to 38. Mitt Romney's organization, by comparison, has earned 182 delegates to date. While Rick Santorum and Gingrich have some overlapping support from conservative populists looking for a red-meat alternative to Romney, Paul has the libertarian side of the conservative coalition all to himself. That creates an underlying logic for a long three-man race, likely between Romney, Santorum, and Paul. As far as Paul's impact on the issues, this week Paul weighed in on the quality of various apologies. Of Rush Limbaugh's apology to Sandra Fluke, the Texas congressman was decidedly unimpressed, saying, "I don't think he's very apologetic. He's doing it because some people were taking their advertisements off his program. It was his bottom line that he was concerned about." And he at least weighed in with an opinion on the underlying matter, rather than restrict himself to the Rush Limbaugh pseudo-event of the week: "I, as an OB doctor, certainly endorse the whole idea of birth control," Paul said. "But this is something different. This is philosophically and politically important." "Does the government have a mandate to tell insurance companies what to give," Paul continued. "So they're saying that the insurance companies should give everybody free birth control pills." "That strikes me as rather odd," Paul added. The other apology-based evaluation Paul offered had to do with his fellow 2012ers' anger at the administration apologizing for U.S. soldiers accidentally burning Qu'rans in Afghanistan: PAUL: I think the Republicans who are condemning it are a little bit over the top, too, because you know, in '08, some of our soldiers in Iraq took the Quran and used it for target practice. You know, just to humiliate the Muslims in that country. Ronald Reagan [sic, actually, George Bush] apologized. And what is so terrible about that if it might calm things down. Two things to watch for as the Paul campaign soldiers on: First, it was reported that the super PAC that's primarily been supporting Ron Paul is "reassessing" its involvement in the 2012 campaign. As Politico Influence reported: "Yes, we are reassessing our efforts, but we have always felt that we are a part of a larger movement rather than just a single election," Endorse Liberty leader Abe Niederhauser told PI today. "We will continue to support Dr. Paul, but ultimately, we support an idea. We will support candidates who uphold the principles of liberty. We may also get involved in some of the Senate and House races." Second, we weren't the only ones to notice that Paul was inexplicably left out of the pre-Super Tuesday polling in Alabama, which led to a high number of undecided voters, among whom are likely a fair number of Paul supporters. We've no idea how this adds value to the results, given the fact that Paul's been adamant about remaining in the race for the long haul, but you should keep an eye on this to see if it becomes a trend. (We suspect it may.)
Is the inevitable hopelessness of Newt Gingrich's bid for the White House starting to take some kind of toll on the walking Big Ideas/Media Derangement Factory? Apparently so! This week he was caught napping at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference, which is weird because you'd think that he would look forward to talking about how President Obama is totally in cahoots with Muslim extremists, yaaaaagh ... YAAAAAGGH! After Gingrich awoke and got his bearings, he did what we expected him to do: He urged Israel not to give Obama advance warning of any possible attack on Iran, because the president would almost certainly tell all his Iranian pals about it. Gingrich then went on to say that the "red line is now" for bombing the motherloving bits out of Iran, and that as president, he would attack Iran and it would totally be their big ol' dumb fault. But it's a long, hard slog with nothing but future war-yawping to talk about and no one to really help his campaign outside of Sheldon Adelson, who at this point might just want to ensure Rick Santorum doesn't win, as opposed to being sincerely in favor of a Gingrich White House. So Gingrich went from spacing out to space camp and filled his head with dreams of moon colonization, thus bolstering his constitution for Super Tuesday, where -- as expected -- he won Georgia and got badly drubbed everywhere else. As Harold Meyerson wrote in the American Prospect: Newt Gingrich had a terrible Super Tuesday. Yes, yes, he won Georgia, his home state, going away. But he not only failed to win any of the other nine states that held elections, he failed to place second in any of them as well. He came in third in the other two Southern states that held contests -- Tennessee and Oklahoma. In five states -- Alaska, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, and Vermont -- he ran fourth, behind Ron Paul. To date, Gingrich has won Georgia, South Carolina, and, as he pointed out on Tuesday night, the Panhandle section of Florida -- that is, the Southernmost parts of the South. He's fortunate that the two big contests next Tuesday are in Alabama and Mississippi. Well, maybe he's fortunate. Having conceded Kansas, his hopes for viability hang on Alabama and Mississippi, which are not done deals at this point -- Rick Santorum could very well prevail in those states. Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond has very bluntly assessed those states as must-wins. In addition to being all-in down South, Gingrich is all-in with his new argument-slash-crazy promise to get the price of gas down under $2.50. He's placed a bet that the price of gasoline will "crater the economy by August" and will take Obama's reelection hopes down with it, and he's assessed Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch wealthy toff who doesn't understand what it's like to pay a high price at the pump. As has been pointed out, Newt Gingrich is actually pretty astonishingly wealthy and personally unencumbered with this worry as well. While speculation on what Gingrich will do after he quits the race has already begun, the bottom line is that Newt Gingrich is telling you ... he is not goooo-wing ... even though the rough times are shoooo-wing. He's the tortoise, yo. Not the bunny rabbit. Why, even his need to open up his marriage to all sorts of extramarital experimentation has diminished from its cunicular heights of yesteryear. He is determined to win slowly, if need be. Though would anyone like to debate him? Anyone? He'll totally debate you! Guys?
There's not a whole lot of Buddy Roemer news this week, and with most of the world focused on the excitement of (Sort Of) Super Tuesday, that is perhaps understandable. Maybe we will just start reviewing all the things he says on his often-hilarious Twitter account, which has all but become the authority on all things Roemer. However, he did go on Jennifer Granholm's CurrentTV show, "The War Room," to talk about Americans Elect and his "campaign to reform a corrupt political system." He said that if he ends up on Americans Elect's ticket -- which is unlikely since the organization can't be comfortable with his 'down with money in politics' platform -- he'll pick a Democrat as his vice president to ensure both a "unity ticket" and an administration that's not dedicated to the orthodoxy of either political party. He also told Granholm that his ticket will peel voters from all parties, noting that his contributions (which are coming in at $25 clips, as he won't take a donation over $100) are coming in at a downright harmonic proportion of 40 percent from Democrats, 40 percent from Republicans and 20 percent from Independents. In more confusing news, Americans Elect is apparently a Philip K. Dick story and Buddy Roemer is Matt Damon. Or something?
There's no getting around the fact that Super Tuesday really stole whatever sliver of spotlight your third-party hopefuls usually manage to get on a weekly basis. That said, is Gary Johnson optimistic about his chances? Does he enjoy campaigning as a Libertarian? SPOILER ALERT: Yes, and yes. "I like being a libertarian," he said. "I've been a libertarian my whole life. I arguably got to serve as the two-term libertarian governor of New Mexico as a Republican." Despite his renewed focus and happiness to be back in the state, Johnson was still a little disappointed he wasn't able to catch on. He mainly blames the national media for not giving him the same coverage as they do other Republicans, like Mitt Romney, who served less time as governor of Massachusetts, and Rick Perry, whose campaign crashed and burned almost immediately after takeoff, despite the greater exposure. "What was happening in New Hampshire was I was knocking on doors and the people I was reaching were the people whose doors I was knocking on," he said. "If Mitt Romney would have done that, hundreds of millions of Americans would have known that ... If he biked around the state, everyone would have known about it." Media attention to his new campaign has improved. The day before he changed parties, Johnson noted, the Wall Street Journal had a major feature on his campaign, something they hadn't done in the previous 18 months he had been running for president. "It was a really nice article ... but where was that when I announced running as a Republican? It wasn't there," he said. "A lot of this has been really surprising." So there you go.
Mitt Romney successfully cast a vote on Super Tuesday in Belmont, Massachusetts (we're guessing it was a vote for Paul Tsongas, right?), which means that Fred Karger's efforts to challenge Romney's Bay State Massachusetts voter registration were all for naught. And that's about it on the Fred Karger front this week! At the top of his campaign website, they've got a message to reporters: "Want to contact us? For press inquiries, please email Brian Wilson, at firstname.lastname@example.org." Would any of you like to contact Fred Karger? I mean, why not, right? We're not going to tell you how to do your jobs.
While the rest of the media was doing whatever they could to suggest that Super Tuesday came with some sort of devastating mixed result for Mitt Romney, very few noticed that President Barack Obama actually had a pretty bad Super Tuesday. Relatively speaking, of course -- he's still going to get nominated and junk. But in Oklahoma, Obama was actually bested in 15 counties by anti-abortion performance artist Randall Terry, who is running in the Democratic Primary, because why not? The upshot here is that Terry looks like he'll end up with a delegate at the Democratic National Convention, because the rules apportion delegates to anyone finishing with over 15 percent of the vote: Oklahoma Democratic Party Chairman Wallace Collins said he wanted to review party guidelines before pronouncing that Terry had cost Obama a vote at this summer's convention. "If under the rules he (Terry) is awarded a delegate, we'll be sure he gets one," Collins said. So if you want to interview Terry's protest delegate at the DNC, just look for the guy who's standing around having a miserable time. Elsewhere on Super Tuesday, Obama held a quasi-thunder-stealing press conference with the White House Press Corps, who -- as Jon Stewart pointed out in hilarious fashion -- rather than asking questions of the president, spent most of their time trying to instigate a beef between the president and the GOP 2012ers. Because they are fearless! On occasion, Obama took the bait. He made an appeal to women voters -- an opportunistic move, given the fact that the past few weeks have been something of an assault on their personhood and an occasion for extended jags of insults from Rush Limbaugh. He also snapped back on Ed Henry after he asked a question about whether or not he actively supported higher gas prices, saying, "Ed, just from a political perspective, do you think that the president of the United States, going into reelection, wants gas prices to go higher? Is there anybody here who thinks that makes a lot of sense?" There did not seem to be anyone at the time. Mitt Romney also briefly came up: A reporter just asked Obama if he has any words for Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney on Super Tuesday. "Good luck tonight," he said wryly. "Really?" another reporter asked. "Really." The press room erupted in laughter. But really what the press corps wanted to know was: When we would be having WARRRRR with Iran!? Obama had spent the previous part of the week at the AIPAC conference trying to lower the ol' temperature on all of that! So he continued that effort: "We will not countenance Iran getting a nuclear weapon. My policy is not containment. My policy is to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon, because if they get a nuclear weapon, that could trigger an arms race in the region, it would undermine our non-proliferation goals, it could potentially fall into the hands of terrorists," Obama said. "At this stage it is my belief that we have a window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically. That's not just my view. That's the view of our top intelligence officials. It's the view of top Israeli intelligence officials." He did take a not-so-subtle shot at the 2012ers: But, Obama went on, "the one thing that we have not done is we haven't launched a war. If some of these folks think that it's time to launch a war, they should say so, and they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be. Everything else is just talk. In the territory of underreported stories, this week -- despite what we presume to be his semi-somewhat determined drive toward maybe "evolving" on the matter of gay rights -- the administration is apparently no longer willing to even comment on a long-promised but now-forgotten pledge to enact a "formal written policy of non-discrimination that includes sexual orientation and gender identity or expression ... for all Federal contractors." Maybe after he wins reelection, guys! And in a move that -- as Daily Intel's Joe Coscarelli surmises -- seems designed to send the ACLU into the warm embrace of Gary Johnson, Attorney General Eric Holder told a group of law students at Northwestern University that the president had the right "to legally kill American citizens abroad 'in full accordance with the Constitution.'" Somewhere, John Yoo is rubbing his hands together and whispering, "Ex-cellent." Oh, and there was a big story this week about this time Obama hugged a guy, which was a big deal because the media didn't report it, except they did, but on so doing, they didn't touch off a howling fit of caterwauling and garment rending. Next time two black guys embrace each other, everyone will totally know better.
[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not?]