When Mitt Romney woke up this morning after two primary wins last night, he probably enjoyed a self-congratulatory moment — but that moment couldn’t have lasted long. The GOP primary process, after all, is far from over. No sooner did the Michigan and Arizona polls close than talk turned to the Super Tuesday contests, particularly Ohio.
Romney’s victories in Michigan and Arizona make the road ahead steeper for Rick Santorum, no doubt. Romney enriched himself with delegates and notched two more first-place finishes — the kind that count the most.
Yet, in other ways, he impoverished himself. While he was surely stunned, as we all were, by Santorum’s earlier triumphant trifecta in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado, he nevertheless expected those states to be contests. He was as polished in defeat as he had previously been in victory. But in the unexpected quest to capture his home state, he lost his footing, sacrificed some of his polish. The loss of his equanimity was evident not only in those twin fabulous flubs of his — “a couple of Cadillacs” and “NASCAR team owners” — but also in the angry, almost frightened way in which he responded to the Santorum campaign’s request to Democrats to vote in the GOP primary. Michigan rattled Romney.
In other words, he won the battle — but he spilled his own blood. Ron Fournier calls attention to this fact in National Journal today, writing that Romney’s next challenge is to not “win himself to death”:
Only a blindly loyal Romney ally would argue that the brutish GOP race has made him a better general election candidate. In fact, each stage of the race has underscored perceptions that Romney is a tone-deaf politician with an ambiguous inner core and a penchant for reminding middle class voters that he is rich and they are not. …
Romney may give President Obama a second chance with blue-collar white voters. The president lost white working-class voters by 18 points in 2008 and his party lost that group by 30 points in 2010. A growing minority population gives Obama some wiggle room in November, but the president needs a boost with the white, blue-collar voters he once accused of clinging “to guns or religion.” …
Yes, Tuesday’s results put Romney a large step closer to the nomination and in a general election fight with a vulnerable incumbent. But he still has Super Tuesday and, perhaps, several more contests ahead in the GOP nomination fight — so many chances for missteps.
In a tight election, independent voters will pick the next president. In the latest Politico/George Washington University Battleground Poll, Obama led Romney among independents by 49 percent to 27 percent.
Romney can turn those numbers around, if he doesn’t first win himself to death.
Then again, another way to look at all of this exists, too: Yes, Romney sacrificed some of his perfection, but that ultimately works in his favor. Michigan taught us again that Romney really wants to be the GOP nominee — and, ultimately, the president of the United States. His misguided attempts to connect, his sudden anger at Santorum’s “dirty tricks,” the sudden specificity of his platform — they all remind us that Romney is not a robot, but, instead, a fabulously wealthy, awkward-when-unscripted, impressively competent manager with a fantastic campaign organization and plausible ideas to improve the economy. What about that threatens to kill Romney’s candidacy?