What if Mitt Romney wins Michigan and Arizona? Well, for one thing, 90 percent of what was written and spoken by the punditocracy since Rick Santorum’s wins in the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses and the Missouri beauty contest will be proven wrong. In fact, more than Santorum himself, who would live to fight another day, the media horde, including (especially?) the right-wing media, will be shown to be out of touch, if not out to lunch.
Recall that the current narrative goes like this: Romney only wins because of money and organization. Sure, more than a million Republicans have voted for him, but the Republican electorate really hates him. They think he’s a rich snob or a phony conservative, or both. Sure he won the CPAC straw poll, not to mention New Hampshire, Florida, Nevada and Maine (oh, he really did win although it was only news when it was possible he lost); But he is from Massachusetts. You see, unlike the fine fellows Newt Gingrich and Santorum, who have impeccable and consistent conservative records, Romney is a wimp. Or a fake. Or something. And Santorum is only being attacked because he’s a social conservative (well, a social conservative from the 1940s, but still).
However, this media narrative, which is fed largely by volatile polls that simply follow the last states’ winner, may not reflect what is going on in the GOP race at all. Maybe Romney lost in Missouri, Colorado and Minnesota because when there is a tiny turnout, hard-core supporters do very well. In any event, Romney hardly made a pitch for those votes. Maybe Romney is pretty much dead center in the GOP electorate and is perceived as the most electable. And perhaps Santorum really did shoot himself in the foot by whining about the attacks rather than responding to them and then going to the far end of the social conservative spectrum, talking about issues low on voters’ priority lists and suggesting he really is too strident and too extreme to beat Obama.
And, of course, it may be that each of these portraits has some element of truth and some of distortion, or wishful thinking by media spinners. It might be that Romney stopped making the case for his agenda just at the point in the race when socially conservative caucus states were the only game in town.
Michigan now is up for grabs, and its outcome may depend largely on the debate tomorrow and the release of Romney’s tax plan on Friday. (By the way, the tax plan has been long in coming and isn’t, as the punditocracy claims, evidence this week of a panic attack by the Romney team.) But if the media narrative is right (i.e., Romney is loathed), it shouldn’t even be close, right?
The media narrative, I would suggest, is driven by two factors: 1) the penchant for looking at polls and writing an analysis to fit them (rather than treating the polls as one, often-faulty, bit of data) and 2) the intensity of the conservative media’s antipathy toward Romney that tends to portray Romney much more negatively than he is perceived by ordinary voters.
Whatever the outcome next week, it is perhaps time to take the polls a little less seriously and watch the race as it unfolds, as we saw it unfold in every presidential-nominating process in recent memory, namely that no candidate wins all the contests.