posted at 10:27 am on March 8, 2012 by Karl
Super Tuesday was inevitably followed by the analysis of What It All Means. The dominant narrative is captured in the NYT headline “With No Knockout Punch, a Bruising Battle Plods On.” Or the ABC News headline “Mitt Romney Wins the Night, But Not the Momentum.” David Frum proclaimed it “A Bad Night For Romney.” At CNN, even Ed Morrissey wrote of “A Night With No Winners.” And so on.
Romney may have underperformed expectations a smidge, although the delegate selection process is such that we do not know for sure. However, he remains on the “majority track,” while is rivals are all-but-mathematically incapable of winning. Even if the Santorum-Gingrich combine blocked Romney from obtaining a majority of pledged delegates, the party would likely push him over the top. It does not please me much to write that, but it is what it is.
The dominant narrative downplays or ignores the actual conditions of this campaign, as explained by Elaine Kamarck:
The Republican presidential nomination contest is dragging on because Mitt Romney is a weak front-runner—right? That’s the media narrative, but in fact the 2012 race was always going to be a long slog, regardless of which candidates were running. For that we can thank changes to the electoral calendar and the campaign-finance system.
Four years ago, a full 80% of the Republican delegates and 70% of the Democratic delegates were chosen before March. Super Tuesday was in early February and consisted of a huge number of primaries. This year, only 6% of the Democratic delegates and 13% of the Republican delegates were chosen before March—and Super Tuesday was a shadow of its former self. It held only 10 Republican contests, compared to 21 in 2008. Missing were some very big states like California, New Jersey and New York. The relatively leisurely pace of the 2012 contests—certainly in comparison to 2008—means that no Republican can actually reach the magic number of 1,144 delegates needed to win the nomination until much later in the spring.
Moreover, The RNC, having noticed that the Dems’ long 2008 campaign drove registration and organization in more states, also changed the rules to promote (quasi) proportional delegate allocation in contests held before April. The storyline that Romney is a weak candidate has some merit, but I cannot think of a candidate since Reagan that could have swept delegates in the manner so many in the media seem to expect of Romney — and not even Reagan could lock up a nomination based on the number of delegates at stake so far this year.
Christian Heinze had a balanced assessment of Romney’s current position. It may be that Mitt Romney’s struggle at “sealing the deal” shows he is unable to beat Obama. Or it may be that, like Obama’s weakness with women and blue-collar voters against Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primaries, Mitt’s weaknesses with conservatives and blue-collar voters may disappear — or matter less — in a general election matchup. We really cannot know this yet.
What we do know is that the next batch of primaries includes Kansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri and Louisiana — none of which are particularly favorable states for Romney. Thus, it’s a fair bet that the narrative of Romney’s weakness will continue, even though we already know he is weak in these states and stronger in states holding their primaries in April (e.g., Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware and New York) with rules that will also favor Romney. The storyline will be that Romney is weak, even though this mostly will be an artifact of the primary calendar. It will be interesting to see whether the media decides Romney is “revitalized” and gaining momentum in April, when the explanation will again be the calendar.
The current storyline likely is not the result of liberal media bias as such. Indeed, it may not even be an anti-Romney bias from either end of the ideological spectrum. Rather, it seems mostly a case of hype making the mediasphere go ’round. Drama sells. Reporting that the GOP campaign is going to drag on mostly because the RNC wanted it that way is not traffic bait.
Recently in the Green Room:
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