Despite winning six of the ten states and most of the available delegates last night, the media narrative still seems to be that Mitt Romney just can't get it done. He won the key state of the evening and has extended his big lead in the delegate count, but judging by some of the headlines this morning, you would almost think that Super Tuesday was an unmitigated disaster.
The AP called Santorum (who lost seven of ten states) "resurgent." Politico says the picture is as "muddled" as ever. The New York Times called Romney's campaign "lethargic." The Washington Post says he's weakened. CNN reminded us over and over that Romney outspent Santorum 4-to-1 in Ohio, but only won "narrowly." Newt Gingrich is "back from the dead .... again" after winning his home state by a healthy margin. Even this website you're reading was cautiously evenhanded, calling Tuesday's results a "split."
There's no doubt that the nomination fight is not yet over, as none of the other three challengers seems ready to drop out. As long as votes and delegates continue to be divided up four ways — though according to CNN's count, Romney still has more delegates than the other three combined — it will take many more contests for Romney to mathematically clinch the nomination.
Still, it's hard to see how last night was anything but a success for Mitt Romney. No, it wasn't a knockout blow, but no serious observer should have expected it to be. No one expected him to win Tennessee, Georgia, or Oklahoma, but he won Alaska and Idaho without even trying. He's popular in the Northeast, which could help in the general election. And while he's not a strong as Santorum in the evangelical South, he won't be running against an evangelical in November.
Yes, he outspent his rivals, but spending money is how you demonstrate strength in politics. He would only be in trouble if he didn't have the money to spend.
Most importantly, Romney won Ohio; the state that everyone said he needed to win. (And a state Santorum needed even more.) It wasn't a landslide, but it considering he was behind by double digits last month, it was actually a pretty impressive comeback. Maybe this prolonged primary fight is hurting his general election chances, but he's still winning this primary.
If the party is divided now, it's because primaries are designed to be a fight between the divided. The combination of super PACs and the GOP's delegate rules would have made it tough for anyone to totally crush their opposition by the first week of March. And if the other candidates can't beat a "struggling" Romney, what chance do they have against Obama? Since beating Obama is priority number one for those conservatives who supposedly don't love Romney, their lack of support is not the crippling problem many are making it out to be.
It's a common refrain among haters of the spooky "mainstream media" that they always root against the front runner, both to prolong the primary fight and give them better stories to write about. We never put much stock in that theory, but today's reaction does have us scratching our heads a little bit. (How can two bitter competitors "share momentum"?) We're not saying the media is intentionally trying to drag this thing out, but if the theme this morning is that Romney needs to erase the doubts.... just whose doubts are we talking about?