by Rod D. Martin
February 8, 2012
SO WHERE STANDS THE RACE? Quite simply, Mitt Romney is now anything but inevitable.
First, it’s important to understand what didn’t happen yesterday. Rick Santorum ran mostly against…no one. Neither frontrunner (Newt or Mitt) contested any of yesterday’s three states. They literally didn’t show up, much less meaningfully compete (Newt, for instance, spent all of yesterday in Ohio). And if they both had, each of these states probably would have looked like Nevada.
What’s more, these were relatively high-cost, low-benefit races. Missouri’s “primary” was a beauty contest which awarded precisely zero delegates: those will be selected at a later caucus, more than a month from now. Minnesota and Colorado were seen as locks for Romney (based on a variety of factors) and not worth contesting given the need to marshall resources for Super Tuesday.
At least that was the reasoning going in.
What Rick Santorum did last night is prove the truth of the old adage that 90% of success is just showing up. He vigorously contested all three states, and won big: 40% in Colorado, 45% in Minnesota, and a whopping 55% in Missouri. This mirrors his surge in Iowa — largely based on having spent the most time in the most counties — and for that matter, at our own NFRA Presidential Endorsing Convention, which he worked harder than any of the guys who lost. Rick Santorum WORKS. And in caucus states especially, work produces wins.
The Gingrich calculus — mirroring all the wise heads and media pundits — was that no amount of work could beat Romney on this turf, so the best thing was to take the losses and move on. But it turns out that Romney is soft everywhere. No one wants Mitt Romney except that nagging 27% or so: conservatives are still begging for an alternative. Rick Santorum gave them one last night and he ran off with three states. Newt Gingrich could have had those three states but punted, which may prove to be the biggest mistake of the entire 2012 campaign.
Now Santorum will appear to be the front-runner, sort of. Many on the right will paint him as the man to beat Romney, which he plainly is not: three default wins on zero money does not a nominee make. Getting behind him now guarantees a Romney victory. But that won’t be obvious for a while.
At the same time, Newt took a much bigger pounding last night than in both Florida and Nevada combined. By allowing Santorum to seem viable, he greatly undercuts his own position, and crucially, his ability to unify the right. Everything now becomes harder for him, and Super Tuesday becomes even more vital than before.
Finally, there’s Mitt Romney. When — for whatever reason — he isn’t able or willing to carpet bomb his opponents with negative ads, he loses, big. He clearly hasn’t closed the sale with conservatives, or even Republicans broadly (but I repeat myself): he is anything but the frontrunner, anything but inevitable. It is now all-too-apparent that the only thing keeping him in any sort of lead is cash and the division of the real conservatives. But either of those things could be healed in an instant. His only hope is to aggravate all divisions.
That’s not a winning formula for November. A divided GOP means low turnout and an Obama/AFL-CIO/MoveOn/SEIU/ACORN win. The other team will be playing its A-game. Romney must do more than just beat his opponents: he must unite the party. Simply pulling out a win will not do that.
So Santorum is king for a day. Newt can recover, but clearly made a life-threatening strategic mistake in failing to fight yesterday.
Romney, however, is on life-support, whether he realizes it or not. Inevitability is over; but even more to the point, the depths of antipathy toward him — with all that means for November — are laid bare. The question is whether he realizes what he needs to do to have any hope of truly closing the sale; and even more important, whether conservatives can get their act together and unite. If they do, there’s nothing Mitt — or Obama — can do to recover from that.
(The preceding was originally a Facebook status update.)
Rod D. Martin is a leading futurist, technology entrepreneur, author and activist from Destin, Florida. He was part of PayPal’s pre-IPO startup team, serving as special counsel to founder and CEO Peter Thiel, and also served as policy director to former Governor Mike Huckabee. He is Founder and CEO of The Martin Organization, whose portfolio of companies includes Galectin Therapeutics (NASDAQ: GALT), Advanced Search Laboratories, Proxomo Software, Agincourt Ventures and the 10 X Fund. His charitable and church work is central to all he does, and he further engages our culture as President of the National Federation of Republican Assemblies (NFRA), as founder of The Vanguard Project, as a widely sought-after speaker and as author of such books as his forthcoming The Imperative of Excellence.