Some of the wingier wingnuts have convinced themselves – or hope to convince the marks – that the Obama campaign, the liberal commentariat, and the mainstream media all think that Mitt Romney would be the weakest GOP candidate in November. (That’s true, in a Churchillian sense: he’d be the weakest candidate except for Gingrich, Santorum, Paul, Perry, Cain, or Bachmann.) On this theory, the fact that we’ve all been piling on ol’ Mittens, accusing him of everything short of child molesting, is a bit of reverse psychology directed at Republican primary voters. We’re begging them not to throw us into the briarpatch.

By that standard, we should have torn out our hair and rent our garments last night. Just when it looked like Romney was going to cruise to the nomination, he’s taken a terri ble shellacking in Missouri and Minnesota, and may complete completed the hat trick by losing Colorado as well. In Minnesota, which he carried four years ago, he’s running third, behind Ron Paul and below 20%. In Missouri, he’s second, but with only a quarter of the votes. Turnout was lousy.

I still think Romney gets the nomination – money talks and bullsh*t walks, and even most wingnut voters aren’t dumb enough to think that Rick Santorum would do well competing for independent voters – but this means that it’s now Santorum’s turn to be hit with the same torrent of slime Romney’s people used to sink Gingrich’s boat. Lots of ill will being built up for November.

Gingrich hailed the results, saying “the big story coming out tonight is going to be that it’s very hard for the elite media to portray Governor Romney as the inevitable nominee.” What we Elders of Cambridge are really scared of is that Gingrich and Santorum might tacitly collude from here on out by choosing to concentrate on different states: Romney is much better off with three active opponents than with two.

Now pardon me while I go drown my sorrows in champagne.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.