“Santorum Battles Perceptions That Race Is Over.” “Obama Battles Perceptions He Racked Up More Debt Than Bush.” The first is an actual, albeit unintentionally funny, Wall Street Journal headline. The latter headline is invented but symptomatic of the president’s insistence that bad facts are really a perception problem. Both are peddling in delusion, although Rick Santorum, is plainly a victim of self-delusion.

Aside from Democrats who transparently root for a prolonged bloodbath and a few conservative dead-enders who seem either to be vying for “I told you so” bragging rights if Mitt Romney loses in November or who are overly invested in anti-Romney angst, there is widespread understanding both in the media and among GOP donors, activists and officials that, as Chuck Todd put it, “To me, it’s over.”

The Wall Street Journal report notes: “Support for Mr. Santorum in both Pennsylvania and Wisconsin appears to be slumping amid growing signs that many Republicans are reconciling to the likelihood that Mr. Romney will emerge as their party’s nominee.” Meanwhile, Romney is showing complete indifference to his once-viable rival: “Mr. Romney, who is now directing nearly all his attack lines at President Barack Obama, is widely expected to expand his delegate lead Tuesday in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia, where Mr. Santorum isn’t on the ballot.” It is as if they are running in different races, one in the general election and the other in a faux primary kept alive only by suspension of disbelief and ignorance of math.

As the party stalwarts line up with Romney, Santorum is left to grouse.

A testy Santorum was plainly annoyed that one of the conservatives’ rock stars was traveling with his nemesis. ABC News reported:

After heaping praise on the Rep. Paul Ryan throughout the past week, Rick Santorum suddenly turned cold on him after the Wisconsin congressman endorsed his rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney.

During an appearance at the Faith and Freedom Coalition in Pewaukee,Wis., today, Santorum didn’t cite Ryan by name but only mentioned him as “some other Wisconsinite” when he talked about his tax reform plans. . . .

“Well, I’ll mention him in the next one, just to make sure. I support his budget, he’s done a great job with it,” Santorum told reporters on the rope line Friday morning after a rally at the Hudson Golf Club.

By the third and fourth speeches of the day, references to Ryan were wiped out completely.

The Romney camp meanwhile sent out a release this morning relishing in debunking Santorum’s notion that there are hidden delegates waiting to pop out for him: “In the first state convention to pick delegates, North Dakota this weekend showed Rick Santorum’s ‘path to victory’ to be an illusion. Rather than increase his delegate totals, he actually lost delegates from the projections after the state’s Super Tuesday non-binding vote. After that vote, Santorum was projected to win 11 delegates, Ron Paul 8, Gov. Romney 7 and Speaker Gingrich 2 .” However, the Romney camp gleefully reported: “The reality turned out to be very different. Local reports . . . indicate that Santorum lost delegates and that Gov. Romney gained delegates. One report indicated ‘that Romney may have the support of up to 60% of the national convention delegates placed in nomination and voted on by the state convention delegates’ and that Santorum lost 5 delegates from what the AP awarded after the non-binding March 6 straw poll. So much for Santorum’s so-called path, and math.”

Not every critic is sad to see him trudge on. Libertarians horrified (Reason magazine’s Nick Gillespie cracks, “Santorum is against non-marital sex and gambling. What’s next, banning step aerobics?”) at the thought of him positioning himself for a future run and potential candidates eyeing 2016 or 2020 races may hope he crashes-and-burns in his homestate, thereby sealing his reputation as a man unelectable in a state where he is best known.

But for now, “Santorum Battles Reality” or “Santorum Battles Perception He Is Crank” would be more apt headlines. Tomorrow, three more losses may generate: “Santorum Battles Perception Three Losses Put Him Further Behind Romney.”