It's Hard to Be the Inevitable Winner When You're Not Winning

 There have been eight state votes in the Republican presidential primary, and Mitt Romney has won three of them. Rick Santorum has won four.

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There have been eight state votes in the Republican presidential primary, and Mitt Romney has won three of them. Rick Santorum has won four. It's hard to make the "inevitability" argument -- vote for me because people are going to vote for me because I seem like a winner -- if you're not a consistent winner. Mitt Romney is like the New York Yankees, the arrogant, well-financed team that expects to go to the playoffs every year. That's why so many people don't like them. But the Yankees also win all the time.

In Tusday's three contests, Santorum destroyed Romney in Missouri, beat him in Minnesota where Romney won by a large margin in 2008, and beat him in Colorado, a state with some Mormons and lots of rich people -- Romney's base. (Romney did manage to win Aspen, Vail, and Boulder County, The Wall Street Journal's Neil King notes.) From the way Romney's campaign set up the Denver site where he would eventually deliver his concession speech, it looks like they thought the vote in Colorado, at least, was going to go the other way. That massive Colorado state flag and patriotic bunting all over the place looks awfully victory speech-ish.
Why did he lose? A couple theories:
  • People were talking about culture war stuff. "Santorum...  was boosted by the fact that social and cultural issues like Planned Parenthood, contraceptives and the Catholic Church dominated the news cycle," ABC News' Amy Walter writes.
  • Romney sat this one out, potentially annoying voters in the process. "He did not make many personal appearances in the states, nor did he run a significant amount of advertising. And his campaign worked to diminish expectations in the day or two before the voting — a practice that can annoy voters who are undecided in the race if they feel like they are being told their vote doesn’t matter," The New York Times' Nate Silver writes, calling this "the most generous interpretation."
  • Romney didn't destroy his competition with millions of dollars of ads. This was Santorum's preferred analysis. “Tonight we had an opportunity to see what a campaign looks like when one candidate isn’t outspent five- or ten-to-one by negative ads impugning their integrity and distorting their record," the candidate said.
  • Even the winner loses sometimes. And this is the Romney theory. His campaign sent out a memo Tuesday morning playing down the vote, Politico's Mike Allen points out. "As our campaign has said from the outset, Mitt Romney is not going to win every contest. John McCain lost 19 states in 2008, and we expect our opponents will notch a few wins, too," the memo said. Of course, McCain lost the general election in 2008. Romney's campaign has a curious habit of reminding us of previous moderate Republican candidates who lost.
Silver points out that unlike the way Democrats eventually warmed up to John Kerry in 2004, Republican voters still don't like Romney. Again, Romney gets all of the anti-frontrunner hate but has less of the frontrunner's success to show for it. Several conservatives have argued that just as Obama gave a "race speech" in 2008, Romney must make a "capitalism speech" defending business and wealth and big rewards for hard-working meritocrats. This case was made most hilariously by a very wealthy woman with the very wealthy name Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild on Fox News the day of the South Carolina primary, who said it would be Romney's "Sister Souljah moment." (You may remember her from 2008. She was a Hillary Clinton supporter in the primary, but switched to the McCain-Palin ticket in the general because Obama was too "elitist" for the Lady's taste.) However, National Review's Maggie Gallagher comes in a close second with her argument that "Americans like rich guys (cf. Donald Trump)." (Americans hate Donald Trump.) Romney did not take that advice during his concession speech, instead talking about how his dad was a carpenter who grew up poor and could still spit nails despite becoming governor of Michigan. The overdog is trying out pretending to be an underdog.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.