Today’s Courier Herald Column:
Mitt Romney is not yet ready to say it, but those grounded in reality should be. After sweeping Maryland, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia, Mitt Romney is the only candidate in the race for the Republican nomination with any evidence of forward momentum. Romney takes at least 83 delegates from Tuesday’s contests. Santorum will likely get 6. Gingrich and Paul continue their “convention strategy” with no additional delegates to take to the convention.
In a sign that the Republican National Committee is also recognizing the reality of both having a presumptive nominee and his need for campaign cash, the RNC and Romney’s team announced on Tuesday that they will begin joint fundraising efforts. After a bruising and expensive primary season, Romney will need to reload his warchest, and the RNC could use more funds as well. The general election campaign will not come cheap, and they’re a month or two behind the original plan to have a nominee.
The biggest question now is when will Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum concede the inevitable and accept that the “Massachusetts Moderate” is actually the candidate that is preferred by the majority of Republicans, conservative and moderate alike. Each is entitled to remain in the race for as long as they wish. When they exit, and equally as important, how they exit will have a lot to say about the potential success of Romney in the fall election as well as their political futures and/or legacies.
Santorum is young enough that he can run again if he so chooses. The history of the party is such that failure is rewarded as “experience” four or eight years later. If Santorum doubts this, he need only be reminded of the man he will soon concede to and that man’s performance in 2008’s primary. Yet Santorum is already wearing out his welcome among many party leaders as well as large segments of the voting population. He will be remembered as the candidate who moved the talking points from taxes and the economy to contraception and pornography.
His continuation is a problem not only for Romney in 2012, but for his future viability if he continues to be the reason the party is off message. Continuing negative attacks now that the RNC is even raising money to repair the damage to Romney from this primary won’t help him in the long run. If Santorum wishes to have a future in a Republican Party that is one of a “big tent”, he must orchestrate a graceful exit between now and Pennsylvania’s April 24th Primary.
Gingrich is one who has more at stake in the present race than he has for his political future. At his age, another Presidential run is unlikely. This race was as much about validating the political life of a man who once was the legitimate heir to Ronald Reagan and delivered the first Republican majority in the house in four decades, but then fell from grace due to personal and political failings with a rapid descent.
While many looked at this race for Gingrich as a book tour, it appears much bigger than that to him. Gingrich was already earning large consulting contracts and high five-figure speech fees. His income was safer from the sidelines than it is now as a candidate long past a chance at the nomination. This race was about Gingrich’s legacy. Its continuation risks changing that legacy from a leader who delivered the Contract With America to a bitter man whose self-indulgence placed his own desires above those of the party and country he wishes to serve. Continuing much longer risks validating Gingrich’s negatives instead of bringing back his positives.
While the timing of these candidates’ exit will be on their terms, there is one item that cannot. They must actively support the nominee in both word and deed. This will require renouncing earlier attacks on Romney, and helping to motivate and mobilize their supporters to get behind a candidate to whom many are actively averse.
Republicans are said to “fall in line” while Democrats “fall in love”. The move must start from the top of each failed campaign. Supporters may not wish to “love” Romney. But most will quickly decide that they will fall in line as their only chance to change the occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Many of us may not be getting the Republican nominee we originally wanted. But if the need among the Republican base is to have any hope for change, Mitt Romney is the only option remaining. The line is forming now.