In politics, winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. The score sheet only shows “W’s” and “L’s”. Moral victories are for the people who didn’t win.
But, winning is winning. And when Romney needed to win — a loss in Michigan would have crippled his campaign beyond repair (or close to it) — he did.
“We didn’t win by a lot but we won by enough and that’s all that matters,” said Romney in his Michigan victory speech.
That does not mean, however, that the race is over. While Romney’s twin victories mean that he will extend his lead in the delegate race, Santorum’s solid Michigan showing coupled with the southern tilt of the states set to vote on Super Tuesday present ongoing problems for Romney. One example: A University of Cincinnati poll in Ohio released on Tuesday showed Santorum with a 37 percent to 26 percent lead over Romney.
And, exit polling in Michigan proves that Romney continues to have problems with the most conservative element of the Republican party, the bloc of voters who typically have an outsized say in the identity of the GOP nominee.
Roughly three in ten voters in the Michigan primary identified themselves as “very conservative”, according to exit polling. Among that group, Santorum won 50 percent of their votes as compared to just 35 percent for Romney. (Among “somewhat conservative”voters, Romney won 50 percent to 31 percent.)
The unanswerable question is what effect — if any — Romney’s dual victories in Michigan and Arizona will have on the race going forward.
Without a single debate in the six days between now and Super Tuesday, expect considerable talk from the party establishment that Romney proved his mettle by winning Tuesday night just a few weeks after being swept by Santorum in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado.
Romney is — as he has been since the day he entered this race — the best funded and best organized candidate in the race. That means that Romney has the operation in place to capitalize on the boost of momentum that he should get — in terms of media coverage and donor dollars — in the wake of these two victories.
How might Romney lose the momentum he will gain from Tuesday night’s sweep? Make more gaffes like he did in the final days before the Michigan primary — gaffes that paint him as not just wealthy but, much more problematically, out of touch. (Romney acknowledged Tuesday that he had made a series of mistakes as a candidate. Now he has to eliminate those unforced errors.)
Romney’s victories on Tuesday night aren’t determinative. The fight for the Republican nomination will go on. But, the alternative would have either ended his campaign or forced a top-to-bottom overhaul as he sought to show that he knew change was needed.
When we look back in the history books, all it will say is that Romney won Michigan and Arizona. And that’s the best he and his team could have hoped for Tuesday night.