The public face of the Romney campaign is projecting power and trying to coalesce the GOP faithful around him. Privately, both the candidate and the GOP have to be worried. Neither primary win has been convincing, and their ballyhooed anti-Obama referendum evaporated.
The media buzz was that Romney did the "unthinkable" in Iowa and New Hampshire, winning both primaries. Yes, and no.
According to Rachel Maddow, Santorum won the Iowa Caucuses on a missed count. It won't be contested, but Romney's eight vote Iowa squeaker?
He won, but with a lower percentage of the total vote than he had in 2008 against John McCain that was actually made a bit worse by the modest increase in voter turnout in 2012.
In New Hampshire, news organizations making a big deal out of the Romney win were a bit too close to the Kool Aid fumes. On Wednesday they touted Romney's "commanding" 39.3% of the vote. Yes and no.
Mitt still had 60.7% of the New Hampshire voters lining up against him, even though New Hampshire is far more moderate and independents were allowed to vote.
Hey, Media: It's the Referendum, Stupid.
In this fractured fairy tale field, Romney knows that he has both the money and the organization to be the nominee.
To win, though, in the general election, he needs mandate and momentum. In that respect, the Republican primaries are shaping up to be a worrisome, dismal failure.
Collectively the six Republican candidates spent $13 million in Iowa to produce a tepid turnout. When you look at the cost per voter, it gets even worse.
If the numbers that Michael Li figured out for the cost per vote in Iowa are correct, Romney is going to bleed badly needed general election capital as long as the others hold on.
- Perry spent a whopping $817 per voter.
- Paul popped $227 per voter.
- Gingrich grubstaked $139 per voter.
- Romney spent $113.07 per voter.
- Bachmann blew $8 per voter.
- Santorum got the most bias for the buck. He spent $1.65 directly in Iowa, and the Super PAC money dropped into the final week of his campaign pushed up his total to around $3.10. 
Romney was eight votes away in Iowa from losing to a guy spending 1.5% of his per voter dollar figure on messaging to Rick Santorum, who is backed to the eyeballs by Super PAC money from far Right Dead Billionaires Club members like Wyoming born again billionaire Foster Friess.
The GOP noise machine via Fox News and other surrogates have been spouting off for months about a surge of angry anti-Obama voters.
It hasn't materialized.
All of that money spent on ads, robo calls, and the hundreds of hours of free Fox propaganda failed to buy one thing: A referendum.
The voter turnout in Iowa was slightly larger, ballpark 122,000, than in 2008, when 119,188 voters turned up for an another depressing round of radicalizing GOP candidates facing populist darlings like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
"[I]n 2008, 86 percent of the people who chose the GOP caucuses were Republicans," notes Slate's Dave Weigel. "This year, 75 percent of the electorate was Republican, with the rest of the vote coming from independents and Democrats."
So fewer actual Republicans were involved in the contest. That speaks to a trend that should scare the bejasus out of the Romney campaign: The hardcores, absolutely essential in a general election, are staying home.
That was reaffirmed in New Hampshire. According to local New Hampsire paper Foster's Daily Democrat:
"While some communities saw similar voter turnouts as in previous years, many saw a lower number of voters make their way to the polls Tuesday in New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary. Despite an increase of nearly 1,000 registered voters between 2008 and 2012, the percentage of Dover residents voted in Tuesday's primary was cut in half."
In Nashua, it was much the same story:
"There was no excitement. There were hardly any supporters, and more telling, there were hardly any voters.
"'Where is everybody?' Mike Sokolowski, holding a Mitt Romney sign, said outside Charlotte Avenue Elementary School."
No Win in the General Election
To see signs of the momentum that he needs for the general, Mr. Romney needed much more convincing numbers. If he'd reached 42-45%, given the crowded fields in Iowa and New Hampshire, it would have been some evidence of the independents flocking to him or hardliners thawing. He only got 39%, ten points short of the 49% or better for the real mandate that Romney was trying to claim on Tuesday.
Nationally, Pew still finds that Mitt Romney only commands about 27% of the base. It's probably enough to get him the nomination if two survivors, say Paul and Santorum, the darlings of the Far Right, stay in the race, but not enough to stem the damage of disaffected Republican voters.
South Carolina will be tough. It's the state that has the most entrenched, anti-Government Tea Party members in the nation, where Senator Jim DeMint, the Teahadi Jesus, holds huge sway over an estimated 50 different Tea Party groups. 60% of of 2008 primary voters brand themselves as solidly evangelical, and evangelicals consider Mormons to be right up there with Lucifer himself.
- 57% of Iowa Republican caucus-goers considered themselves "born again/evangelicals." Romney barely tied the vote, or lost.
- 22% of New Hampshire GOP primary participants said they were "born again/evangelical". Romney carried 31% of the evangelical vote, which was the majority of the vote in that segment, but, had there been one strong candidate for the far Right, Romney would have lost the "back the winner" minority in that group and he would have tanked on the overall count.
The die-hard Tea Party faithful, gleeful about crashing our debt ceiling last summer, sees Romney as the kind of career, say-anything political hack that they hate as well.
There are more than 50 Tea Party groups that operate in South Carolina. Among Republicans there, while 64% say that they aren't members of Tea Party Movement, 74% of them agree with its principles, a Winthrop Poll conducted April 2011 suggests. That is more than double the national figure published by the Pew Research Center.
How vitriolic is the anti-Romney camp there? Matt Bai of the New York Times relates an interview with Spartanburg, South Carolina Tea Party organizer Karen Martin.
"Then our conversation turned to Mitt Romney, and Martin's sunny countenance darkened. "I don't know a single Tea Party person," she said, slowly drawing out her words, "who does not despise Mitt Romney to the very core of their being." I searched her face for levity or compassion, but found neither."
Romney has worked doggedly over the last year to paint himself as one of them, even though his starched shirts, starched hair and Nutrasweet smile scream the kind of phony politico that the Tea Party wants tarred and feathered. He has had epiphany after epiphany about the bad decision-making of his moderate ways when he governed in Massachusetts.
Evangelicals doubt that he's as anti-abortion as he's portraying himself these days. His Janus-faced flip-floppery leaves a lot of conservatives of every stripe more than a bit mistrustful of him.
In the general, Mr. Romney's long-playing Massachusetts political record, which he has been able to avoid in the primaries thus far, will begin to spin.
He will have not only independents, but the loud voices of the anti-corporate Occupy Wall Street movement to contend with. Given his career as a corporate raider before he entered Massachusetts politics, that may be the last cannonball in his ship that sends it to the bottom before it reaches the finish line on November 2nd.
The economy isn't helping Republicans either. Mr. Obama's poll numbers improve every month that the jobs number stays stable or grows. His approval numbers with Democrats and independents continue to improve, and his GOP dislike numbers, still high in the low 80s, are actually edging downward as the sluggish economy lurches upward slowly.
Even in conservative South Carolina, a December 2011 NBC News/Marist poll concludes that Obama would still edge Romney 45-42.
If you can't hold better than a 50% lead in a recent poll on the general election in the most conservative state in the nation, against a black President where the Confederate Stars and Bars flew over the roof into the 21st century, it speaks to the thing Republican operatives fear most: Their extremist base is staying home if Romney is the GOP's favorite son.
My shiny two.