Mitt Romney’s decisive victories in Illinois and Puerto Rico have re-established much needed momentum for his candidacy. Yes, he’s spent a lot of money to rack up these wins, and yes, voter turnout in a lot of places is down from 2008. But conservatives have long argued that primaries and general elections shouldn’t be coronations; they should be real contests, in which candidates are vetted and ideas are discussed and debated. What doesn’t kill a candidate politically makes him/her stronger. And that’s exactly what’s going on here. This is no coronation. It’s a long, tough slog, but the candidate who emerges on the other side will be strengthened, focused, battle-tested, and ready.
Which brings us to which candidate that will be. As of now, it looks more and more likely to be Romney. He’s got double the number of delegates of his closest rival, Rick Santorum, and about three times as many as Newt Gingrich. Because it’s a four-man race, delegates are being split all over the place, further delaying the point at which one of them can clinch the nomination. Once we get to winner-take-all states, the process should accelerate.
In the meantime, we’ve got a beaten-up but unbowed frontrunner in Mitt Romney and two guys who—despite having great strengths and having run solid campaigns—cannot reasonably expect to get the nomination. But they’re staying in the race for a variety of reasons: to keep the debate within the party going, to guide the national debate, to continue chasing their own personal dreams, to pursue what’s becoming increasingly impossible. It may be that Santorum and Gingrich still think they can win this thing, and if they go all the way to the convention, one of them may be able to deny it to Romney, particularly if Romney can’t get to the magic 1144 delegates.
But if anyone were in a position to challenge her party’s nominee, it was Hillary Clinton in 2008, and she didn’t do it. While she had huge support and a big number of delegates, she didn’t want to be the skunk at the garden party. She threw her support to Obama and that ended it.
I’m inclined to believe that Newt and Rick will do the same when the time comes. Let’s just hope that the time comes sooner rather than later. Because as healthy as the process is now, after June it will no longer be so healthy.
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