Romney Avoids the Abyss

So depending on how you choose to look at it, Mitt Romney won two crucial Republican primaries last night and resumed his “inevitable” march to the GOP nomination–or, Mitt Romney came within three percentage points of losing his home state and blowing the entire campaign.

My insta-analysis of the Michigan results over at TNR mainly questions how big a “bounce” Romney will get–not so much in the polls, but in the degree to which GOP elites have been reassured. And the answer is not entirely clear. We are about to enter a brief period of truly intense spin wars that will determine whether Romney goes into Super Tuesday needing simply a few wins and a steady rise in delegates, or another virtual wipeout of his opposition.

It’s much clearer what we’d be hearing if Romney had lost Michigan. Yes, Team Romney would have tried to blame it all on Democratic crossover voters, essentially trying to delegitimize the primary altogether. There would have been some brave talk of the Death Star getting down to serious business and crushing all opposition on March 6. But once it really got started, the panicky elite talk about a late entry candidate, which was sure to begin in earnest if Romney had lost, would have drowned out everything else in the media. Should it be Christie? Should it be Jebbie? Should it be Bobby Jindal? Should it be Mitch Daniels? Memes like this quickly gain a life of their own, and Mitt Romney would have become an afterthought, the whole inevitability/electability house of cards crashing down around him. He would have had no loyal band of devotees (at least outside LDS country) to fall back on, no faction of the party that would be deeply offended if he were thrown out like stale bread from yesterday’s sandwich spread.

So Mitt avoided that scenario, for now and maybe for good. But all the weaknesses he showed in the runup to February 28 haven’t just gone away.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.