Mitt Romney’s primary wins in Arizona and Michigan Tuesday were hardly a surprise. In Arizona, his Mormon and Western roots gave him a leg up. In Michigan, the facts that he was born and raised in the state and that he is the son of a former governor were a definite advantage. Yet in order to arrive at a rather underwhelming conclusion, the Republican primary campaign went through a series of tremendously exciting twists and turns.
Romney’s roughly 20-point win over Rick Santorum in Arizona’s primary was a welcome boost for his campaign, but not exactly earth-shattering. Most of Arizona’s top GOP brass was solidly in his camp: Gov. Jan Brewer, Sen. John McCain and Rep. Jeff Flake, who is likely to join McCain in the Senate next year. With a large Mormon population and fond memories of Romney’s leadership of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, Arizonans joined their neighbors in Nevada in delivering a resounding victory for Romney.
Michigan was another story. That this race was even close is embarrassing for Romney. From gaffes at a speech at an empty Ford Field, to the blase mention of his family’s numerous fancy cars, to awkwardly bringing up his friendships with NASCAR magnates, Romney made many mistakes.
But he also proved one thing: The fundamental concern for Republicans should not be that this former governor isn’t conservative enough, but that he is an astoundingly bad politician. Romney is a brilliant, accomplished, focused leader. If we as Americans want an outstanding technocrat to right our economy, he’s our man. But his self-awareness and human touch are almost comically lacking. Voters should stop being surprised by Romney’s social awkwardness and instead realize that he offers the most stable and effective leadership for America.
Romney was also disadvantaged by his usual shortcomings. For example, Michigan is a quintessential blue-collar state. Romney’s struggle to connect personally, coupled with his patrician profile, is a massive impediment to connecting with such a demographic. Meanwhile, Santorum was raised in and spent his life representing the steel and coal country of western Pennsylvania, just a stone’s throw from Michigan. His roots made him an unlikely power player in Michigan.
Many thought a loss in Michigan would have destroyed Romney’s campaign. It likely would not have done so, but either way, Romney caught a break. Talk of recruiting a last-minute GOP dark horse candidate is malarkey, but the conversation indicates the profound degree to which Romney is a damaged and imperfect future nominee, who enjoys lukewarm conservative support at best.
It is difficult to see where Santorum will go from here. If there were anywhere for him to make a stand and show his strength, it would have been in Michigan.
The coming days, however, have the potential to shake up this race even more. Tomorrow’s caucuses in Washington state are unpredictable. Next week, on Super Tuesday, 10 states will be on the line. While Romney will dominate primaries in his other home state, Massachusetts, along with neighboring states Vermont and Virginia (where only he and Ron Paul have made the ballot), the map is daunting elsewhere.
Newt Gingrich has been staking out a last stand in the Bible Belt: Georgia, Oklahoma and Tennessee. A competitive Santorum could conceivably knock Romney into third in those states. But the big prize will be Ohio, with similar demographics to Michigan. A stumble there could hurt Romney immensely.
I’m afraid that the longer this goes, the more we will see a race to the bottom. Gingrich and Santorum appear to be waging kamikaze campaigns against Romney from the right. Unless the party can salvage some maturity, discipline and character, it could be heading toward an epic electoral implosion at a time when President Obama should be eminently beatable. Hopefully this will not be the case, and the coming primary results will introduce some clarity into this political nightmare.
Sam Dulik is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. He is the director of special events for the Georgetown University College Republicans. QUORUM CALL appears every other Friday.