Carter is right about the pivotal role that Newt Gingrich is playing in the GOP presidential race. It’s arguable what percentage of Gingrich votes Rick Santorum would get, but it is common-sensical that most of those votes are far to the right of where Mitt Romney is perceived to be. The Romney and Santorum forces must know this. I read that Gingrich recently received Secret Service protection; I assume that was at Romney’s insistence. If Gingrich were to leave the race, it could create a passing lane for Santorum in the next few primaries.
The primary calendar doesn’t get easier for Romney. He could easily finish third in the Alabama and Mississippi primaries. He should start now to manage those expectations.
Romney and Santorum are trying to get back on an economic message, and polling suggests that both need to. While the primaries aren’t supposed to be flattering, I’m surprised to learn that Santorum and Romney have popularity ratings among national voters that are almost the same — 45 percent negative for Santorum and 47 percent negative for Romney; 45 percent positive for Santorum and 46 percent positive for Romney. Among Republican voters, it’s essentially the same ratio. The Republican political intelligentsia is confused by this. Everybody knows Romney has a problem connecting, but it’s surprising that at least according to this Gallup poll, he’s slightly more unpopular than Santorum.
Even though he had a net victory Tuesday, Romney is the one who has to brace for an attack. Santorum has a huge advantage in the Southern states, and there’s not much Romney can do about it except ride out the storm.
And as Carter and others suggest, the White House is enjoying this — and there’s nothing wrong with it enjoying the misery of its opponents. But what’s happening here in March will not matter much in mid-October, when people decide if they want more of the same or something different.