Believe it, Romney’s a winner

Dana Milbank
Opinion writer March 9, 2012

The reviews of Mitt Romney’s Super Tuesday performance were murderous.

The Wall Street Journal judged that “voters failed to deliver a decisive victory” to Romney.

Dana Milbank writes about political theater in the nation’s capital. He joined the Post as a political reporter in 2000. View Archive

Fox News reported that the “Super Tuesday results ensure the protracted and unpredictable GOP primary contest will press onward.”

Romney “missed his opportunity to put to rest doubts about his strength as a candidate,” reported Politico’s Alexander Burns.

The Atlantic’s Molly Ball reported that Rick Santorum “had clearly given Romney a bad scare, and it was enough for him to claim a moral victory.”

The obituaries evidently had an impact. In a Washingtonpost.com survey, readers were asked who “had the best Super Tuesday,” and fully 50 percent said it hadn’t been Romney.

But the question of who had the best Super Tuesday is a matter of fact, not opinion: Romney did.

He won six of 10 states, including Ohio, the night’s marquee contest. His win rate was higher than John McCain’s in 2008 on a night that all but clinched the GOP nomination. He has won about 40 percent of the delegates he needs to win the nomination and has more than twice as many as Santorum, his nearest competitor. And the party’s new system requiring the proportional awarding of delegates, though it has slowed Romney’s coronation, now makes it essentially impossible for anybody to catch him.

The fact that Romney is still viewed to be in danger of losing the nomination says less about him than it does about the media. We have turned him into Candidate Sisyphus, providing him with a plentiful supply of boulders to push uphill. First it was make-or-break New Hampshire, then must-win Florida, then do-or-die Michigan and game-changing Ohio. Each time Romney prevails, we assign him a new test.

Part of this is our bias in favor of conflict. I’ve been as guilty as the rest in attempting to extend this primary season, even pleading with Newt Gingrich to fight on, strictly for my personal enjoyment. But the reluctance to acknowledge Romney’s inevitability also reflects media antipathy toward this boring candidate — the flip side of 2008, when journalists brayed for Hillary Clinton to abandon her fight against Barack Obama, the media’s preferred candidate. Chuck Todd and his NBC colleagues blogged this week that Romney is “certainly losing style points by barely beating Santorum in states like Michigan and Ohio,” akin to a “top-ranked college football team winning a squeaker against an unranked opponent.”

Only in American politics is a win not a win — a phenomenon that is puzzling the rest of the world. “Mitt Romney wins six on Super Tuesday but gets labeled a loser,” observed Britain’s Daily Mail. Discussing the phenomenon over lunch on Thursday, Gregor Schmitz of Germany’s Der Spiegel news magazine told me that the U.S. media’s propping up of Romney’s opponents is “intellectually insulting” to viewers and readers.

He’s right. On Intrade, the online market where people put money behind their opinions, Romney as of Friday night was given an 86 percent chance of winning the nomination; Santorum, in second place, had a 3.2 percent likelihood. That sounds about right to me. It’s theoretically possible for Romney to lose, but we owe our audiences more than hype about theoretical possibilities and juiced-up storylines.

“Some are calling New Hampshire a must-win race for Team Romney,” Fox’s Mark Steyn reported in late December. Romney won that must-win.

“I do not like making dramatic statements, but Florida is make it or break it for Mitt Romney,” National Journal’s Charlie Cook said in January. Romney made it.

“Michigan may be Romney’s last stand,” CBS News reported. Romney stood.

ABC News included Arizona in its “make-or-break week” for Romney, who won Arizona handily.

“Ohio could be make or break for Romney,” the Washington Examiner reported after those wins.

“Romney could easily have a really bad Super Tuesday,” Charles Krauthammer opined on Fox News.

Romney won Ohio and had a really good Super Tuesday — but polling stations hadn’t even closed when the media got to work on erecting new hurdles for Romney.

“Graham says Romney must win in South to end primary,” the Hill reported Tuesday afternoon atop its account of an interview with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

“Romney’s Super Tuesday wins ‘maybe not enough,’ ” the New York Daily News reported Thursday, atop an article quoting McCain’s skepticism.

Indeed. I’m hearing if Romney doesn’t win Tuesday’s primaries in Alabama and Mississippi, he may be toast.

danamilbank@washpost.com

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