GOP’s March madness

Republican voters know all about the disappointing ending; they have flipped to the last page of the book — Mitt Romney somehow becomes the party’s candidate for president. It’s all over but the fighting. But tell that to fuming GOP primary voters who are far from finished with their seven stages of grief. Those crafting new chapters for the story are making it colorful, climactic, lengthy, expensive and ugly. Someone should tell them soon that the only thing worse than the Mitt they have now is one that’s beaten, battered and broke.

There are tiring months ahead, full of white board calculations, with Romney’s army showing just how impossible it is for Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich to catch up in delegates. Romney is rich in delegates, but he can’t buy enthusiasm anywhere. He proved once again on Super Tuesday he can’t win in the South, and struggles to attract very conservative voters, strong Tea Party supporters, evangelical voters and blue-collar 
voters. Santorum, having backed off his campaign against contraception, college and Camelot, ruined Romney’s shot at ending the race with his wins in North Dakota, Oklahoma and Tennessee. And he lost to Romney in Ohio by fewer than 13,000 votes. Despite Romney’s last-minute surges in the polls in Michigan last week and Ohio this week, no one in the Romney campaign can dispute that without his money advantage, Romney would have lost both states to the former Pennsylvania senator. 

Romney squeezed a victory out of Ohio and took the Idaho and Alaska caucuses and primaries in Vermont, Massachusetts and Virginia on Tuesday. Sure, it was great for Romney to win all 42 delegates in Virginia, but even with the endorsement of popular Gov. Bob McDonnell — and more significantly, without Gingrich or Santorum on the ballot — Romney couldn’t keep Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) below 40 percent. 

Meanwhile, the Santorum campaign hopes the party will find a way to unload Gingrich fast. Gingrich robbed Santorum of the chance to beat Romney by staying in the race until it was too late, while saying all along that Romney must be stopped. Polls have consistently shown that Gingrich voters go to Santorum but Santorum voters go to Romney in one-on-one matchups. Despite the acrimony between them, Romney will have Gingrich to thank for the nomination. 

Upon winning his home state of Georgia — his second of 22 contests — Gingrich declared himself back from the dead. He cited his ups and downs in polls, with all dips in popularity caused by some candidate known as “Wall Street money.” He blasted the elites, the media and the GOP establishment that “decided that a Gingrich presidency was so frightening that they had to kill it early.” All was well on Planet Newt, as the former House Speaker took credit for spending his entire career building the Republican Party and referring to the other candidates who have unsuccessfully tried to knock off Romney as “lots of bunny rabbits that run through.” Proudly he proclaimed “I am the tortoise. I just take one step at a time.”

Gingrich never acknowledged that he has no path to the nomination, and as for Santorum’s first-place victories and strong second-place showings in key states — he is merely a bunny rabbit. In conclusion, Gingrich quoted his wife, Callista, that the results of Super Tuesday would just bring another chapter in the nominating fight. But he added it was, “a chapter for the soul of the Republican Party. It’s a chapter in the fight for the very nature of America. It’s a chapter defining who we are as a people.”

Doesn’t sound like a chapter Gingrich is going to miss out on. Romney might want to cut a check for Gingrich’s super-PAC.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.