Rick Santorum's stunning sweep of the Missouri primary and the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses is a sign that Republican voters are rejecting Mitt Romney and declaring their desire for a strong ideological contrast with President Barack Obama--"a choice, not an echo."
It is also a sign that the 2012 presidential election is about more than fiscal and economic issues, despite the conventional wisdom that social conservatism had fallen out of fashion. Even if social issues are not the focus in 2012, they have become important to establishing a clear and successful opposition to the radical agenda of the Obama administration.
Above all, Santorum's win--which was decisive in all three states--showed that Republican voters are not going to behave the way that the media wants them to; they will not put principle aside to coronate a winner, nor follow the big money and big-name endorsements.
Just yesterday afternoon, it seemed impossible that Santorum would win all three elections, let alone two of them. Romney chose to base himself in Colorado, which was his likeliest firewall against Santorum's success in what the media derisively called "beauty contests."
As the Wall Street Journal notes:
In two of the states, Colorado and Minnesota, Mr. Romney had won by large margins in 2008. He was hugely favored in Colorado in the days leading up to the Tuesday caucus. Two of his top aides have deep experience in the state, and his campaign has been busy organizing there for months.
Though he worked hard in the final hours to dampen expectations, Romney still managed to disappoint. The only candidate who may have lost even more was Newt Gingrich, whose claim to be the foremost challenger to Romney may no longer be credible after his poor showing yesterday.
What is particularly striking is the map of the Colorado results (CNN's version is below), which shows that Santorum won across the state, except in northwest counties closest to Salt Lake City.
Though Santorum has now won more states than any other candidate, the road ahead is still an easier one for Romney than for Santorum, who has failed to qualify on several state ballots. Romney should win the Maine caucuses, and will likely be a big winner in the next big primary in Michigan on Feb. 28. Yet that leaves three weeks for Santorum to make the most of his momentum and consolidate his support.
Rick rolled last night--and Republican voters will see the battle of ideas, rather than personalities, that they clearly want.