For all the kvetching about Mitt Romney’s long slog to the Republican nomination, his struggles are as attributable to the party’s changed delegate allocation rules as his performance in the primaries and caucuses. . . .
All told, Romney has won a larger share of the vote than McCain in 14 of the 22 states that have held binding primaries or caucuses so far. McCain has only performed better in eight (South Carolina, Georgia, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Ohio/Vermont/Idaho — which held their primaries after McCain locked up the nomination). Romney ran well ahead of McCain in Florida (46 percent to 36 percent), Iowa (25 to 13 percent), Michigan (41 to 30 percent), New Hampshire (39 to 37 percent) and even out-tallied McCain in the senator’s home state of Arizona (47.27 percent to 47.17 percent). . . .
In reality, the main reason why Romney doesn’t have this nomination close to locked up is because of the changed rules governing the nomination battle. Most states are awarding their delegates proportionally, rather than the winner-take-all system that most states adopted in the 2008 presidential contests. Even if Romney won every state so far, he’d still be far short of the 1,140 delegates necessary to officially clinch the nomination.
So, not to put too fine a point on it, but all the “Romney can’t close the deal” and “no knockout punch” stories, not to mention the “Romney struggling”and the “conservatives don’t like Romney” stories are largely bunk. The reason the race “has no victor” is because there haven’t been enough delegates available to win it. The reason he has “failed to end” his opponents’ challenge is that the delegate rules are heavily tipped in favor of a long, drawn-out process with winner-takes-all states very rare in the early going.
Add to this the super PACs, which allow losing candidates who in past years would have gone away to stick in there and compete until their patrons have had enough, and you can understand why the race isn’t “over.”
The facts don’t stop pundits from repeating ad nauseam perfectly silly things. Getting off the train from New York on Wednesday, a pundit told a political operative (this is the company you get taking the Acela from New York to D.C. the morning after Super Tuesday): “Romney is so weak — 40 percent of the party doesn’t want him!” Umm, actually 60 percent is a blowout in most contests; Romney may not be their first choice, but there is no reason to believe the vast majority of Republicans won’t rally around him in the fall.
So why are so many smart pundits playing dumb? I mean, they can figure out the delegate rulebook quite easily. Yet we have a series of myths, all tipped in one direction, and all designed to cast Romney as damaged goods.
Well, it does not take a political scientist or a psychologist to figure out what is going on. There are some on the right who are convinced that a new candidate or a brokered convention is around the corner. Oddly enough, these conservatives don’t like Romney. And wouldn’t you know it, the Obama cheering section on the left thinks it’s just remarkable that Romney hasn’t wrapped things up already (wink, wink).
It is all fairly transparent. From both the left and the right, many in the punditocracy have every interest in grousing and clubbing Romney. (In the vain hope some of this negative coverage is attributable to insufficient cooing over the press corps, the Romney team is stepping up its “charm offensive.” Couldn’t hurt, but Romney staffers should keep expectations low that it will make much of a difference.)
But let’s get real. Romney has won more than 400 delegates; His opponents haven’t broken 200. He has won nearly 3.2 million votes; His closet challenger has won less than 2 million. He’s won every race the media dubbed “decisive” (before summarily moving the goal posts) — Florida, Michigan and Ohio.
In sum, the chattering class has agreed: Romney is hobbling. The facts say differently, but don’t expect that to change the coverage.