Setting His Own House On Fire

As someone who wrote Tuesday night that Mitt Romney had essentially, and finally, wrapped up the Republican presidential nomination, I find myself, like everyone else watching this peculiar contest, in awe at Team Romney’s consistent ability to step on its victories, with the Eric Fehrnstrom Etch-a-Sketch fiasco being just the latest example. Last night TPM’s Evan McMorris-Santoro offered a useful summary:

IOWA: While he was still riding high as the declared winner in Iowa, Romney slowed his momentum by telling an audience in New Hampshire, “I enjoy being able to fire people.” The line was taken out of context somewhat — always a hard battle for Romney to fight after he declared taking people out of context to be fair game — but Democrats and his Republican opponents pounced, and Romney was forced to confront the less than marketable aspects of his background as a corporate takeover artist.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: Romney’s big win in the Granite State was overshadowed considerably by the fight over Romney’s tax return, which he first said he wouldn’t release, then was incredibly vague about releasing, and then finally released. Democrats had a way to stamp out Romney’s momentum and they used it.

FLORIDA: After getting shellacked in South Carolina, Romney’s win in delegate-rich Florida was supposed to get the storyline back on track and Romney on the express train to the nomination. But the morning after he won, Romney went on CNN and told America, “I’m not concerned about the very poor.”

“Facepalm,” wrote conservative pundit Michele Malkin.

MICHIGAN In addition to the Ford Field debacle, which gave Democrats plenty of ammo for their argument that Romney’s homestate wasn’t interested in its native son anymore, Romney preempted the momentum he was about to get by winning the closely-contested state by flying down to Florida and talking about all the NASCAR owners he’s friends with while trying to connect with the race fans at the Daytona 500.

ILLINOIS Romney won big, and gave an Obama-focused speech that gained widespread acclaim. In short order, he trotted out an endorsement from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and began to make the case in earnest that it’s time for the primaries to end and for the GOP to unite around Romney. Etch A Sketch lit a fire under both his Republican and Democratic opponents that made his inevitability argument — while still very sound on paper — a tougher sell.

If Romney wins in Louisiana Saturday, and makes a mockery of the idea that Rick Santorum came somehow execute a comeback, the odds are very high that Romney or his staff will do something to undermine the primary’s impact no later than Sunday afternoon.

You can say it’s all wind in sails, and that all that matters is the delegate count. But the reality is that everyone’s entirely valid conclusion that this thing’s totally over depends very much on the assumption that Rick Santorum’s campaign can’t survive a difficult stretch of April primaries and arrive at the oasis of May contests in IN, NC, WV, NE, AR, KY and TX. The money will dry up and the opinion-leaders will tell Rick it’s time to go.

That’s still likely, but when all else fails for Mitt’s Romney’s opponents, the front-runner and now his staff can always be counted on in their mercy to come to the rescue, like some perverse fireman you can call who will rush home and make his own house go up in flames.

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.