Is the Republican presidential nomination contest more over than anyone realizes?
1. For the third time, conservative party actors have reacted to good headlines earned by Rick Santorum by . . . sitting on their hands. It happened after Iowa (when Santorum established himself as the probable conservative alternative to Mitt Romney), after Colorado/Minnesota, and now after Alabama/Mississippi. Once again, crickets.
2. The final scheduled debate has been canceled. Normally, we would expect the losing candidate to demand more debates. That’s especially true for a candidate who trails in resources such as money and organization. And yet, as far as I can, tell Rick Santorum hasn’t particularly complained about the end of the debates, and hasn’t demanded that Mitt Romney grant him a one-on-one encounter.
In other words, both potentially anti-Romney Republicans and even perhaps Santorum’s campaign are acting as if it’s over. Now, that may not be what they’re thinking. Perhaps those potential anti-Romney Republicans just don’t like Santorum either, making them indifferent — and therefore silent. Either way, I find it astonishing that since Iowa Santorum has picked up so little support from highly visible conservatives.
Do the people involved — even including, perhaps, Santorum — realize that it’s all over? That doesn’t mean that what we’re seeing is exactly phony; part of the process is about binding the nominee to party groups and their positions on public policy, and perhaps conservatives believe that’s best done by propping up the façade of a hard-fought campaign even after any outcome but the obvious one is long gone. Santorum may be fighting for his own future, plus the unlikely possibility of a scandal or some other unpredictable outside shock to the campaign. Of course, it’s also true that Santorum may be inept, or his campaign so disorganized that it doesn’t see the obvious. Perhaps someone should send them Ross Douthat’s helpful post explaining it. I have no idea. All I know is that the math just doesn’t work for anything other than a Romney win unless something significant changes and soon — and that a whole lot of neutral Republicans don’t seem to mind that result.