Hunter Baker As I write at 9:30 p.m. Central Time on Tuesday, Governor Mitt Romney has been projected as the winner in both the Arizona and Michigan primaries. With these victories, he has blunted the most potent attack on his campaign thus far.
Prior to last week’s debate, Rick Santorum was building up a powerful head of steam as perhaps the most serious challenger for the mantle of the “anti-Mitt” candidate in a campaign full of pretenders with feet of clay. However, at that debate Santorum stumbled badly and failed to realize that he simply could not defend his practice of attaching earmarks to bills (even if that practice is fully defensible). One cannot convince an audience hostile to earmarks of the righteousness of the practice in 30 seconds or less. At multiple points, Romney (who bears a tremendous natural load of suspicion that he is a big-government moderate) was able to rouse the crowd against Santorum, who ended up sounding like a man who loves government programs as long as they align with his worldview.
Based on his showing on Tuesday night, the damage to Santorum’s campaign was not huge. But it was enough to cost him Michigan — and winning in Michigan would have been a devastating blow to the idea of Mitt Romney as the front-runner or the inevitable candidate. Romney’s losing in Michigan (his home state) would not have been akin to Superman’s losing a fight in the Fortress of Solitude, but it would have been close.
Santorum still has a good chance to do well on Super Tuesday, but he won’t be in the contest stalking a wounded Mitt Romney. Instead, Romney has shown again that while he has been a weak front-runner, he has anything but a glass jaw. Romney just keeps learning, keeps doing his homework, and fights nasty when he has to do so. The former governor described himself as resolute. He may not have been so in his various positions over the years, but he has absolutely demonstrated that quality in his pursuit of the nomination.
Jay Cost There were two big take-home points from Tuesday night. First, Romney is most certainly not the majority choice of his party. He won just 41 percent of the vote in Michigan, compared with 39 percent four years earlier. This is not the sign of a party electorate that is flocking to him, and it is unlikely that Romney will start winning an outright majority of voters any time soon (at least outside New England).
Second, he has nevertheless positioned himself almost smack dab in the middle of the GOP electorate. He does best among “somewhat conservative” voters, quite well among moderate and liberal voters, and holds his own among “very conservative” voters. This makes it extremely difficult for any candidate to defeat him, for the remaining voters are basically split between Romney’s left and his right.
Thus, while Romney does not seem likely to surge to the nomination, it has become extremely difficult to see who in this field can ever defeat him. Romney has managed to win the middle 40-49 percent of voters in New Hampshire and Florida, and now Arizona and Michigan. If he can do it again next week in Ohio, that should effectively be the end of the race.
Burt Folsom Jr. Governor Romney, after trailing in most polls, came back to edge Rick Santorum in Michigan. It was a must-win for Romney, to keep his campaign credible. Romney grew up in Michigan, and won decisively in the Detroit and Lansing areas. Santorum did well in rural Michigan, which is likely to go Republican in November anyway. (For example, Ottawa County, the most Republican county in the state, went strongly for Santorum — and will again go strongly Republican in November.) Romney did well with tea-party voters, Catholics, and those who list the economy as their main concern. In his victory speech, he ignored his rivals and stressed the weaknesses of President Obama. With his recent tax proposals — lower corporate-tax rates and no death tax — he is staking out a more clearly conservative position that may help him on Super Tuesday next week.
— Burton Folsom Jr. is professor of history at Hillsdale College, and co-author (with his wife Anita) of FDR Goes to War.