The arguments advanced by Romney’s advisers are not incorrect. He did not spend real money in these states. He did not campaign in them much. No delegates were awarded in any of the three. Missouri was simply a beauty contest. Arizona and Michigan, whose primaries will be held at the end of the month, look favorable for Romney. Super Tuesday offers more opportunities to win. Santorum and Newt Gingrich have limited resources.
The campaign memo also said this: “It is difficult to see what Governor Romney’s opponents can do to change the dynamics of the race in February.” In writing that, Romney’s top advisers could not have been anticipating that their candidate would suffer a triple defeat Tuesday.
The issue is not whether Romney has been significantly derailed from his path to the nomination, but rather what kind of nominee he might be and what kind of party would be behind him.
The states that held contests on Tuesday were not inhospitable to the former Massachusetts governor. Four years ago, he won Colorado with about 60 percent of the vote and Minnesota with about 40 percent. He ran third in Missouri, where he received 29 percent of the vote, just four points behind John McCain.
On Tuesday, he won just 35 percent of the vote in Colorado and 17 percent in Minnesota (a third-place finish). In Missouri, he managed to gain 25 percent of the vote to Santorum’s 55 percent, although the 2008 primary awarded delegates and this year’s did not. In raw votes, he was well below his 2008 levels.
All front-runners lose states along the way. Four years ago, McCain certainly did, as did Barack Obama. Obama became the Democratic nominee without winning California, New York, New Jersey, Ohio or Pennsylvania. He lost the Florida contest and didn’t compete in Michigan. He still became president.
So Romney and his advisers can say that they are still on what they call the methodical path toward the nomination, that they are winning delegates whenever delegates are being awarded. That’s all correct.
But that methodical path they describe also could give him the nomination while leaving his party fractured, the base uninspired and his opponents bitter and slow to reconcile. On Tuesday, turnout was below the levels in 2008. Republicans are fervent in their desire to defeat the president in November but can’t work up much enthusiasm for their candidates.