For all the hype, and all the nail biting — which as I write this is still very much going on in Ohio — Super Tuesday winds up pretty much the way the rest of this year’s cycle has been: with Mitt Romney moving solidly closer to the nomination. Or, as political scientist Josh Putnam put it early in the evening: “More things change, the more they stay the same: Candidates win where expected & Romney's delegate lead grows.”
As I write this, Romney has won in Vermont, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Idaho; Rick Santorum has nice wins in Tennessee, Oklahoma, and North Dakota; Newt Gingrich won in his home state (more or less), Georgia; Ohio is too close to call and may stay that way all night; and Alaska is still voting. And yet, the way the delegates shake out make it very good, if not spectacular, night for Romney, even if he winds up losing in Ohio.
Here’s what it comes down to: Tonight was the first night since South Carolina in which Romney could have probably put an end to the competitive portion of the nomination struggle by winning enough states. He almost certainly didn’t do that; indeed, he may add two more losses next Tuesday in Alabama and Mississippi. This in no way threatens his grip on the nomination. To the contrary, his hold on the big prize gets even tighter tonight, especially if the final delegate totals fall his way, which is more likely to happen than not.
Rick Santorum seemed to be slipping in the polls the last week, but he hung on to have a nice night . . . at least in isolation, and at least if the name of the game wasn’t the delegate count. He certainly solidifies his status as the second-place candidate. That might get him on the ticket; it might make him, I suppose, a serious candidate in the future. Other than that, however, it’s not really clear that being the runner-up for the nomination is all that different than finishing farther back.
There were some hints of polling movement for Newt Gingrich over the weekend, but as it turned out the former Speaker had a terrible night. His home-state win was solid, but other than that, there’s really nothing — he appears to have finished third or fourth everywhere else. Any normal candidate would now drop out; whether Gingrich will play by those rules is hard to tell, however.
And Ron Paul, so far, hasn’t done much, either. He’ll pick up some delegates, but still hasn’t won a state.
All the rest is spin. Of course, it must be disappointing for Romney that he didn’t do even better than he did, but the bottom line is that he won the most states, the most votes and the most delegates; he has overall won the most states, votes and delegates; and he has a solid lead in national polls, money and endorsements. It’s not just that no one has ever lost a nomination after building this kind of lead; it’s that no one, since the modern system was fully in place in the 1980s, has ever come close to losing after building this kind of lead. So it goes on, but for all the fun of close vote counts in the occasional state, there’s really not very much suspense here.