February 7 may have been the defining date for the Republican nominating battle. Rick Santorum went 3 for 3 in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri. In the latter two he didn't just beat Mitt Romney, he whomped him. If Santorum goes on to secure the nomination, February 7 will be seen as the date he reached critical mass. If you're a conservative the results were encouraging for a number of reasons.
Particularly enjoyable was the comeuppance of conventional wisdom, which took several body blows. For months the pundits have been arrogantly pronouncing the ultimate outcome of a process that would involve numerous twists and turns. The self-appointed experts just knew that Romney's money, organization, and endorsements would assure his ultimate victory. That may still be true in the end, but so far the pundits' predictive model has some serious flaws. Last week's results stunned and surprised the "experts."
Romney has been banking on two main themes: inevitability and electability. He's essentially said, "I should be the nominee because everyone knows I'm going to be the nominee."
The inevitability and electability claims now look like very fragile foundations on which to base a campaign. For them to work you cannot afford to lose more than one or two primaries. On February 7 Romney didn't just lose, he got trounced. To this point he has lost 5 out of 8 primaries. He drew to an inside straight, which is not smart. He made a bad bet. February 7 pulled the rug out from under claims of inevitability and electability.
Among the candidates the word "baggage" is usually associated with Newt Gingrich. It is Mitt Romney, however, who has the heaviest single piece of baggage: Romneycare.
For Republican voters Obamacare is as much of a core issue as the economy. (The two are, of course, closely linked.) Romney's creation of Romneycare as well as his ongoing decision to defend it could prove to be his fatal flaw. It may well be a liability too great to be overcome by any amount of money, organization, or endorsements.
Another major element of Romney's sales pitch has been "electability." That now appears to have been a serious strategic blunder. That emphasis makes sense if your primary opponents are Gingrich or Ron Paul. It's not nearly as persuasive if your main opponent is Rick Santorum. As I write this, Santorum is leading Romney in three of five national polls. In the Public Policy Polling poll Santorum leads Romney 38 percent to 23 percent.
The February 7 results were a clear demonstration of the limitations of money, endorsements, and organization. Romney has an overwhelming superiority in those factors. The results last week demonstrated that core principles and ideology are more powerful than money.
I can't speak for all conservatives, but I think many of us see 2012 as a golden opportunity to put a true conservative in the White House for the first time since Ronald Reagan. We're frustrated that we may squander that opportunity. Nominating Mitt Romney would do just that. We would vote for Romney over Obama in a heartbeat. Sometimes you have to settle. This is not one of those times.
Making sure that Barak Obama is one and done is job one in 2012. If that takes nominating a moderate, we should nominate a moderate. However, if we can defeat Obama and elect a conservative, that is what we want to do and it is something we can do.
Romney is doing his best to convince voters that he is, in fact, a conservative. It's a little late for that now. At this point his only option is to proclaim that he is conservative. Unfortunately for him, he has already proven that he is not a conservative by his actions. A conservative would never have supported government-mandated health insurance. There's nothing truer than "actions speak louder than words." As someone once said, "Your behavior speaks so loud I can't hear what you say." For many conservatives Romney's assets are insignificant and his liabilities are deal killers.
Prediction is a hazardous occupation. Just who Republicans will nominate is still uncertain. Nevertheless, the February 7 results were the biggest step yet in reducing that uncertainty.