It is only fitting that two relatively meaningless wins in the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll and the Maine caucus for Mitt Romney should rewrite the media narrative created after three equally unmeaningful wins for Rick Santorum last Tuesday. In this yo-yo race, no sooner does the punditocracy pronounce someone is “surging” or another candidate is ”in trouble” than fortunes reverse and the candidate who’s “surging” experiences a setback and the candidate “in trouble” stabilizes. This does not, however, prevent the press from once again over-interpreting or misinterpreting events.
The CPAC win for Romney was especially telling. The press corps, mainstream and conservative, had pronounced him nearly washed up. He gave one of the best speeches of his campaign (explaining why he is a conservative and some of his agenda items), and the crowd greeted him with multiple standing ovations. But the media reports were largely disparaging, fixating on his comment that he was a “severely” (probably a slip of the tongue in place of “seriously” or “solidly”) conservative governor.
Standing on the floor of the ballroom, I remarked to a conservative journalist after the speech that I was surprised by the robust greeting (given all the harrumphing in the right-wing media). He waved me off: “It doesn’t matter what he says.” Well, yes, to many in the right blogosphere nothing Romney says makes any difference, but voters, even very conservative activists, are a different matter.
The CPAC straw poll results and the Maine caucus (where he came in third) are a good reality check for Rick Santorum. Bumps, surges and momentum are fleeting things in this nominating process. If you don’t come, organize, focus and play hard, you’re not going to win. (Hint: Having declared that he can win in Michigan, Santorum should show up there soon and spend time wooing voters.)
So has Romney now “closed the deal” with conservatives? Is he now “inevitable” once again? Well, all that is preposterous, just as it was preposterous to assume he had “sealed the deal” following Florida or had “lost the base” following South Carolina. This presidential primary, not to be too simplistic, is a race in progress, the outcome of which is clarified bit by bit.
Pretending there is certainty when there is none is akin to shouting “Eureka!” upon discovering fool’s gold. But the media don’t seem to learn. Once again the pundits’ luster is dimmed as their collective narrative goes kablooey. We all need to sit back, be patient and watch this contest play out.