On the eve of Tuesday's Super Showdown in the Republican nomination process, let's take a look at where things might be headed.
First, we learned a little bit about front-runner Mitt Romney and the other candidates in the midst of the blowup over Rush Limbaugh's controversial and outrageous remarks about Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke. Just as Republicans tend to buy into the myth of the power of antitax crusader Grover Norquist among voters, they also reacted in fear to criticizing the conservative talk show host's lowbrow statements about Fluke.
As I have said previously, Limbaugh went after Newt Gingrich before the South Carolina primary, and Gingrich won. He went after Romney before the Florida primary, and Romney won. Limbaugh is like the school-yard bully who yells and kicks the dust, but once you push back, you find out he is a just a blowhard. And I think that Republican leaders, especially Romney, lost an opportunity to show strength and independence and conviction with the idea that it is time to unify the country against negative and divisive rhetoric, whether it comes from the Right or Left. It would have been a great moment for Romney to show some core conviction, and if he had taken on Limbaugh on Friday, Limbaugh's apology on Saturday would have positioned Romney as a strong leader. Sadly, he and others have bought into the myth that Limbaugh is an important voice in the political marketplace.
Second, no matter how all the states on Tuesday finish in voting preference, it will be readily apparent on Wednesday morning that the delegate math does not allow any candidate other than Romney to get to 1,144, the magic number needed to secure the nomination. The math will show that only Romney can amass that total, and Rick Santorum and Gingrich will have to realize that.
Will it cause them to drop out? No, and here's why. Their new strategy after Super Tuesday will be built around the imperative of keeping Romney from winning the needed delegate total. Much like the former defensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints, Gregg Williams, who paid players a bounty to take out key players from opposing teams, the strategy of Romney's opponents and their super PACs will be to try to take him out and beat him up by June.
Santorum and Gingrich may want to damage Romney going into the Republican convention so it looks like he will lose to President Obama. That could prompt uncommitted convention delegates to back away from the front-runner. If they couple that strategy with winning a few states late in the process, like Texas and maybe California, they could make the argument that the Republican Party should consider an alternative to Romney. The probability of success of this plan is low, but for Romney's opponents, it is likely the only available means to "win" post-Super Tuesday.
All of the above, from the weak response to Limbaugh's crazy remarks to a possible "damage-the-front-runner" game plan, will only serve to make the likely Republican nominee very weak going into a tough battle against President Obama. And as of Monday, the polling shows that that has begun to happen. Romney looks to be the weakest Republican nominee coming out of this process in more than a generation. He needs to unite the Republican Party quickly, but the "facts on the ground," as they say in the military, certainly aren't allowing him to do so.
Cross-posted from National Review.