OK, so a big sigh of relief was heard from the Republican establishment when Romney squeaked out his victory in Michigan.

Yes, he did it with big margins from the country-club Republicans who make over $100,000 a year in Bloomfield Hills; yes, he did it with his super-PAC and campaign running negative attacks 90 percent of the time and outspending Santorum by at least 2-1; yes, he did it as Santorum was eviscerating his own economic message in the horrendous debate performance and with his talk of “throwing up” over JFK and categorizing President Obama as a “snob” for pushing a college education.

Yes, and of course, Mitt did have that home-field advantage. They love the Romney name in Michigan, or at least the over-60 crowd who vote do! 

But here is what the Detroit Free Press editorialized:

“Mitt Romney narrowly escaped humiliation in his home state, and Rick Santorum sustained, at least for another week, his claim to leadership of his fractured party's Anybody-but-Mitt wing. But it's hard to know how anyone who cares about the Republican Party's future — or Michigan's, for that matter — can distill anything positive from Michigan's GOP primary verdict or the superficial, rhetorically overheated campaign that preceded it. Still, the duration and intensity of the past month's intramural bloodletting, and the rhetorical extremes to which each of the leading candidates drove the other, will make it much harder for either to compete for the independent voters that will be decisive in November's general election.” 

The real question is whether the panic attack we have been witnessing these last several months as the primaries and caucuses have unfolded is over, or almost over. Or is it just starting as Romney seems to be gradually and excruciatingly inching toward the nomination?

First, there was Bachmann: a walking disaster as a possible candidate. Then there was Perry — boy, that shooting star burned out fast. Of course, Herman Cain, the non-traditional candidate, was non-traditional for a reason. And Newt Gingrich was electrifying in the sense that he would fry the Republicans. So we are left with Santorum as the alternative to Romney. Even though he wants to have his cake and eat it too on social issues as well as on religion and the culture wars, Republicans know that women and the suburbs would run from him in droves in a general election.

So the panic that all these candidates caused among establishment Republicans is coupled with the dislike that rank-and-file voters have of Romney. This is the “none of the above” factor we are seeing increasingly in polls as Republicans express their unhappiness with the entire field.

There is no question that the state of the economy will surely be a determinative factor in November. After all, if unemployment continues to drop, the economy grows at a faster pace, the stock market keeps going up, investors put money into more start-up businesses, housing continues to stabilize and Americans feel that the nation is getting back on track, Romney has no real argument for his candidacy. 

If the verdict is more muddled, then you have a comparison between two candidates. You have a real fight for who stands up for the middle class, for working families, for those who have been hit the hardest by the recession. This is where many worry that Romney’s constant gaffes and tone-deaf responses will kill him (doesn’t care about the poor, likes to fire people, NASCAR owners, several Cadillacs, Bain Capital, not much in speaking fees at $375,000, 13.9 percent tax rate, etc., etc.).

The problem for many voters is that Mitt Romney’s blackboard is almost entirely written after six years of running for president and what they see, they don’t like. Sadly for Romney, there is no eraser that works and his propensity to keep writing on the blackboard is predominantly harmful. Romney’s negatives have skyrocketed and continue to rise; hence the panic.

The difficulty is that hysterical-panic may turn to resignation-panic after Super Tuesday. Assuming Romney wins or buys Ohio, he might be off the ropes. At this stage he has outspent Santorum by 7-1 in that state.

What we are hearing from many Republicans is that Romney is the best we are going to get and we better put a halt to the process now. After all, Romney and his super-PACs have spent over $60 million and he is spending money as fast as he can raise it now. Three more months of this will drain a lot of people dry, and Romney really has no small-donor base. Despite the huge super-PAC potential on the Republican side, Romney needs to have a war chest for November.

The resignation-panic might go up and down as Mitt Romney becomes the accepted candidate, but it is panic nonetheless and reinforces a long lost hope that the Republicans should have been smart enough to come up with a better candidate.