Romney Wins Two

Over at Plum Line I have a quick reaction to Romney’s nice night in Michigan and Arizona.

Just to add a bit to what I said over there… I think Romney wrapped up the nomination in either South Carolina or Florida. I still do not believe that there’s convincing evidence that he had it sewn up any earlier than that.

If I recall correctly, Ed Kilgore wrote a column a ways back arguing against that idea, and I strongly agree with him…at least to the extent that that’s no major information that we don’t know about yet. Barring that, however, I do believe that Tim Pawlenty could have broken through last summer had he happened to have had one or two good debates, and if that had happened or if he had found some other way to generate positive buzz, he might well have been the nominee. I have no idea why Rick Perry was so awesomely bad in the debates, but had he begun to improve just one debate earlier (and therefore avoided the iconic “oops” moment) I think it’s very possible he would have regained enough ground to do well in Iowa, and then have been viable going forward. As for Rick Santorum, well, his initial break-out was very unlikely, but after that I have no idea why Republican party actors were so uninterested in rallying to him. Perhaps there was something he could have done differently in the week between Iowa and New Hampshire to change that. Maybe just showing up early on the networks and proclaiming victory while they were counting the votes in Iowa might have moved the needle enough. The point is that it probably didn’t have to be this way. Romney may have always had the best chance to win, but it was still just a possibility, not a certainty.

OK, on to a little self-assessment, again with my apologies for being self-indulgent. I didn’t quite have the nerve to say it at the time, but realistically I thought that Romney nailed down the nomination in South Carolina. Yes, South Carolina. The one that Romney got clobbered. I did say after that primary that “he’s probably a bit closer to winning it all now than he was after New Hampshire” and, as always, I ruled Newt Gingrich out, so all that was good, but I did say that Santorum “may still be barely viable.” I should have taken the leap; it is what I was thinking, but it just didn’t seem quite right to say it. After all, a week earlier I had said that if Newt won South Carolina (which I thought was unlikely, so I sure got that wrong), then Romney “would still all but certainly win the nomination.”

Then, after Florida, I did call it over:

At this point, Romney essentially has the nomination wrapped up. Yes, people will point out that only a very small portion of delegates has been selected, but most of these contests are usually long over when the winner finally hits the mark that technically clinches it. Realistically, only some sort of external and utterly unexpected event could derail Romney now.

And I’ve been pretty much treading water ever since. As, for that matter, has Romney.

To grade myself…I think I’ve been a pretty good guide to the general structure of the race. The only thing I think I really was wrong about, as I’ve said, was that I should have noticed that Santorum might be viable in the very unlikely event that he ever took off, unlike Newt and Bachmann and Cain. Otherwise, though, I don’t have anything I feel bad about on that score. And it’s still not clear that Santorum was ever viable, for whatever that’s worth.

Where I’ve been useless was in medium-term predictions about specific states. I was quick to see Santorum’s surge in Iowa once it started, but didn’t anticipate it at all. I thought Santorum would do much better in New Hampshire. I didn’t see Newt’s South Carolina surge in advance. I certainly didn’t see Santorum’s Colorado/Minnesota shocker. I got a few things right, but my score is terrible on these.

On the other hand, I have a ridiculously good record on election-day (or day-before-election) picks. I’m pretty sure, alas, that it’s mostly luck, but I’ve had a string of hits on those guesses, starting with Santorum in Iowa and including the right call on Michigan today. So make of that what you will.

At any rate, while I think it’s “over” in the sense that Romney is the nominee unless, as I said, some sort of external event happened (and here I’m thinking about a major scandal or health issue or something along those lines), that still leaves the possibility that we’ll have heavily contested primaries for some weeks yet. Or, perhaps, Romney will win Ohio and one or more of GA/TN/OK next week, and the general election campaign will begin for real next Wednesday. But more about that, I think, later.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.