If You Are A Republican, No Need to Panic

The news this morning is all about Rick Santorum winning the primaries in Mississippi and Alabama, but who won the most delegates yesterday? Mitt Romney did. He added six delegates to his lead, which now stands as follows:

Romney: 495
Santorum: 252
Gingrich: 131
Paul: 48

So Romney has won well over half the delegates selected so far. Many observers have lost sight of the fact that the Republican Party changed its rules this year, in order to ensure that the nomination process would take some time rather than end prematurely, as the party thought happened in 2008. We wrote about the rules change here. The relevant rule now states:

Any presidential primary, caucus, convention, or other meeting held for the purpose of selecting delegates to the national convention which occurs prior to the first day of April in the year in which the national convention is held, shall provide for the allocation of delegates on a proportional basis.

Given that the primaries and caucuses to date have allotted delegates on one form of proportional representation or another, and given that the party started with a large field, the fact that Romney has won well over half of the delegates selected so far is quite an impressive accomplishment. His showing in yesterday’s primaries was also good, considering that, as Romney put it, these deep South primaries were “away games” for him.

As of April 1, Republican primaries can be winner-take-all. To name just three, New York (95 delegates), California (172 delegates) and New Jersey (50 delegates) are in that category. Does anyone seriously think that Rick Santorum can win those contests? I don’t. Today’s Rasmussen Reports, for example, shows Romney with a 20-point lead over Santorum in California.

So it appears to me that Romney is moving steadily toward the nomination. He isn’t winning in a landslide, but so what? Today the Associated Press wrote:

Mitt Romney’s losses in Alabama and Mississippi underscore a stark reality: The core of his party does not want him.

But who says Republicans in Mississippi and Alabama are the core of the Republican party, any more than voters elsewhere? Romney has gotten many more votes than Santorum in the contests so far, so why doesn’t it make more sense to say that the core of the party doesn’t want Santorum?

The contest between Romney and Santorum is generally postured as one between an economic conservative and a social conservative. That is fair enough. But economic and social conservatism are not contradictory philosophies; on the contrary, in some respects they are opposite sides of the same coin, and both are traditional legs of the conservative stool. Romney’s emphasis on economic issues is the winning formula in an election cycle when the economy is far and away the main concern of voters, and the country is drowning in debt. But Santorum’s strong showing is a reminder that the social issues will be a plus for Republicans in November, too, despite the Democrats’ hysterical attempts to miscast them in a way that hurts Republicans.

Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, says that he is staying in the race to prevent Mitt from getting the 1,144 delegates he needs to secure the nomination. That makes Gingrich the Mephistopheles of this year’s election cycle: he wills evil, but does good. By staying in the race, he splits the non-Romney vote and should ensure Romney’s victory in some or all of the winner-take-all primaries.

UPDATE: One more thing: Yesterday the Obama campaign sent out an email to the president’s supporters that said, in part:

Tonight, some combination of Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum will give victory speeches after the next round of Republican primaries.

All you really need to know: According to a new poll, if the general election were held today, we would lose to Mitt Romney. …

If you can’t imagine a scenario in which Mitt Romney defeats Barack Obama, just look at the numbers. It’s a real possibility, and we have to start acting like it.

It was, of course, a fundraising appeal. But the point was nevertheless correct. Mitt Romney can, and I think will, defeat Barack Obama. It is highly doubtful whether Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul has much chance of doing the same.

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