The most important day of Mitt’s political life

The semblance of order that has defined the GOP race could be reinforced in Michigan – or shattered

Topics: Opening Shot,

The most important day of Mitt's political life

If Mitt Romney loses in Michigan today, it won’t automatically derail his campaign. But it would inject a potentially unprecedented level of uncertainty and chaos into the Republican nominating process and cast new, serious doubt on Romney’s long-term prospects.

It’s been observed, over and over, that the current GOP contest is the most volatile race for a major party’s nomination in the modern era, and that’s certainly true. But there’s still been some semblance of order to it. While one challenger after another has surged past him only to flame out, Romney’s campaign has chugged along, never truly cratering in the polls and always winning when it has absolutely had to.

But Michigan is a must-win state for Romney and there’s a very real chance he’ll lose it. Polls over the last few days have found Rick Santorum, who last week squandered a big lead and fell behind Romney, moving into a tie, or even opening a small lead. The final survey from PPP, released overnight, puts him ahead by a point, and the polling firm tweeted last night that Santorum will probably win most votes today; the question is whether the early votes Romney has already banked will save him.

What caused this last-minute shift is unclear. Maybe Santorum won back hardcore conservatives with his culture war antics. Or maybe Romney’s nightmarish weekend scared away the soft supporters he’d tentatively won over last week. Or maybe something else is at work. But the momentum is clearly on Santorum’s side and there’s now genuine suspense as Michigan Republicans (and “mischievous” Democrats) head to the polls. Here are the three basic outcomes that are possible tonight:

1. The Mitt meltdown: The unspoken premise of the Romney campaign is that Republicans don’t have any other options, and that once they’re forced to focus on a choice between Romney and one of his rivals, they’ll come around, however grudgingly. So when Santorum became a contender after his surprise three-state sweep of Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado a few weeks ago, all of the political world’s eyes turned to Michigan. It’s Romney’s native state, he’s spent heavily in it, attacked Santorum aggressively, and benefited from a strong debate performance; if Romney fails to post a bounce-back victory under these circumstances, the sense of order that has prevailed in the GOP race will be shattered.

What would happen then?  Who knows? Obviously, there’d be loud talk about a new candidate being recruited into the race, but that would still be very unlikely, given how many ballot deadlines have passed. It’s virtually inconceivable that Romney would quit, at least in the near future; surely, he’d still see Santorum (and Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul) as beatable. But a loss, even by just a vote, would usher in a truly awful week of press coverage for Romney – the worst of his career. There’s no telling how much this would damage his poll numbers, his fundraising, and the way influential Republicans see him. And that week from hell would culminate in Super Tuesday, where Romney would be facing uphill battles in Ohio (where he already trails Santorum by 7 points), Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma and probably some other states too. And if he has a bad Super Tuesday …

2. Order is restored: The silver lining for Romney of his late polling dip is that it’s lowered the bar. Late last week, when polls showed him opening up a healthy lead, a victory of (say) 6 points in Michigan for him wouldn’t have been too surprising. But now it would be.

It’s not impossible this could happen. After all, Romney apparently enjoys a wide lead among those who cast early ballots, so he would only need to win by a small margin among those who vote today for his final margin to be impressively large. If he can post that kind of clear-cut win, the political world will again be talking about Santorum’s inability to handle the spotlight and Romney’s inevitability will again become the dominant theme.

3. The long night: What if the polls close and the exit polls are too close for the networks to make a call? And what if it’s still too close to call after an hour of vote-counting? And after two hours? And on and on like that until Romney is finally, either late at night or early in the morning, declared the winner of a very close race – a margin of 1 or 2 points. Obviously, Romney would then deliver a triumphant victory speech. But Santorum would probably act like the winner too, crowing that he came within a whisker of beating the better-funded, inevitable nominee in his native state. The question is whether the press and the political world would side with Santorum’s spin and essentially treat the result as a moral victory for the Pennsylvanian – and a humbling setback for Romney.

Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>