Is the GOP finally giving in?

Mitt Romney’s long and frustrating quest to make Republicans say “good enough” finally gets some traction

Topics: Opening Shot,

Is the GOP finally giving in? (Credit: AP)

There was good reason to doubt that Mitt Romney’s narrow victory in Michigan last Tuesday would significantly alter the trajectory of the GOP race and speed up his path to the nomination.

Romney’s 3-point margin hardly seemed impressive, especially in light of his native son status, and the reluctance of the conservative base to climb aboard his bandwagon figured to haunt him in the next batch of contests. And when he caused an uproar on Wednesday by contradicting the GOP line on contraception (before quickly clarifying his remarks), it seemed as if Romney was practically begging the right to keep saying no to him.

But with Super Tuesday now just a day away, it’s become clear that Romney has received a genuine boost from the Michigan outcome. A week ago at this time, he and Rick Santorum were essentially tied in Gallup’s national survey, but now Romney has pulled 16 points ahead, 38 to 22 percent. He also posted a solid victory over the weekend in Washington state’s caucuses, has erased Santorum’s lead in Ohio, and even moved into contention in Tennessee, an evangelical-dominated state that was supposed to be off-limits to him.

Moreover, Romney snagged a pair of endorsements on Sunday from prominent Republicans with deep ties to the Tea Party movement, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Sen. Tom Coburn. If winning Michigan in a squeaker helped Romney achieve all of this, then who knows what a big night this Tuesday – something that is now very possible – might do for him, and for the timetable of the GOP race?

Romney’s post-Michigan roll is partly the result of how the political world – and Republican leaders like Cantor and Coburn – decided to interpret last Tuesday’s outcome, and partly the result of the Romney campaign learning some lessons from its previous struggles.

In a sense, Romney benefited from his own self-inflicted wounds. About five days before the Michigan vote, he looked poised to blow past Santorum in the polls and prevail by a substantial margin. But his widely ridiculed speech to a 98 percent empty football stadium and his tone deaf statements about his wife’s multiple Cadillacs and his NASCAR team owner friends reinforced some of the worst impressions of Romney and seemed to give pause to his softest supporters in the state.

By the time voting began last Tuesday, Romney’s lead had vanished, Santorum seemed to have all the momentum in the world,  and the possibility that Romney would lose and usher in a period of unprecedented nominating season chaos loomed large. After this dramatic buildup, Romney’s 3-point victory came to feel emphatic, and news coverage tended to portray the verdict as an affirmation of Romney’s inevitability – not an indictment of his feebleness. Consequently, his poll numbers rose nationally and in the Super Tuesday states.

The Romney campaign also helped itself, though, by not repeating the mistake it made after its last breakthrough triumph. Recall that Romney’s inevitability was also hailed after his 14-point massacre of Newt Gingrich in Florida and lopsided victory in Nevada, outcomes that also sent his national poll numbers soaring. But Romney’s campaign paid little attention to the three contests that came immediately after Nevada, apparently assuming that momentum would do the job. This allowed the underfunded Santorum, who had poured considerable energy into Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri while Romney and Gingrich warred on the national stage, to score a surprise three-state sweep on Feb. 7 that thrust Romney right back into crisis mode.

It seemed we might be in for a repeat of this, with the first post-Michigan test in Washington – a caucus state where a late February poll had given Santorum an 11-point lead over Romney. But this time, Romney made sure Santorum had company in the state, campaigning in Washington last week and securing a 13-point win on Saturday. Instead of curbing Romney’s Michigan momentum, the Washington result reinforced it. And Romney is being similarly aggressive in Idaho, North Dakota and Alaska, three small Super Tuesday states. By taking no contest for granted, Romney is making it harder for Santorum to target small states and replicate his Feb. 7 surprise.

He also may be gaining the confidence of the conservative elites who’ve been standing on the sidelines. The endorsements of Cantor and (especially) Coburn are significant because each has credibility with the exact sort of Republican voter that’s been most resistant to Romney. And it’s possible that that credibility was holding them back – that they privately preferred Romney (if only because of the deficiencies of the other candidates) but feared being dubbed sellouts by their purist fans. Romney’s success this past week has made it safer for Republicans like Cantor and Coburn to come out for him publicly. A big day tomorrow could produce more endorsements like theirs.

Super Tuesday could still be a bad day for Romney. The latest polls in Ohio show an even race, and a Santorum win there would be the headline of the day, no matter what happens elsewhere. And Romney still might get wiped out in the South. But he could just as conceivably win Ohio and pick off a Southern state – and if he does that, he’ll be in store for an even bigger bounce.

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 17
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    John Stanmeyer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.

    Lu Guang

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China

    Carolyn Cole/LATimes

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti

    Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    “Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA

    Google Earth/NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.

    Garth Lentz

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada

    Cotton Coulson/Keenpress

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway

    Yann Arthus-Bertrand

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.

    Stephanie Sinclair

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.

    Mike Hedge

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million

    Google Earth/ 2014 Digital Globe

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.

    Daniel Dancer

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon

    Peter Essick

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.

    Daniel Beltra

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico

    Ian Wylie

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Slide 13

    Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.

    R.J. Sangosti/Denver Post

    Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot

    Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.

  • 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>