Rick Santorum’s big win in the Louisiana primary yesterday – he blew out Mitt Romney by a margin of 49-27 – spells trouble for Romney.
It doesn’t mean that Santorum has a legitimate shot at the nomination. He doesn’t. The mathematical possibility of Santorum taking the nomination is restricted mainly to Romney suffering some sort of catastrophic breakdown, Edmund Muskie-style. Even then, Santorum will have a tough time winning enough delegates to go up against President Obama.
But Romney has trouble nonetheless. For the umpteenth time, Romney’s failure to deliver in a key state after winning another key state demonstrates just how little the conservative base likes him. After New Hampshire, Romney failed to lock down South Carolina. After Florida, he failed to lock down Colorado and Minnesota. After Michigan and Washington, he failed to lock down Georgia, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.
This doesn’t mean much for the primaries – he needs to win just 50 percent of the remaining delegates to take the nomination. But it does mean something for the general election.
Southern voters in particular are unhappy with Romney. That washes away certain advantages that Republicans have generally had against Democrats in recent presidential elections. In 2008, Barack Obama took Virginia, Florida and North Carolina, but lost the rest of the South. He also took Ohio and Pennsylvania and won the majority of the North. Mitt Romney threatens to make the South competitive for Obama, while struggling to beat Obama in his stronghold – the North.
There is another problem for Romney, underscored by Santorum’s recent statements about the possibility of a Romney vs. Obama race, in which he suggested that we might as well stay with what we have rather than take a risk on a tabula rasa candidate like Romney. Ron Paul’s unwillingness to state openly whether he would endorse Romney is problematic as well. There are certainly many conservatives who feel the same way – who would either go third party, which is in essence a vote for Obama, or who would stay home. Romney and the GOP bigwigs hope that conservatives dislike Obama enough to come out in spite of Romney, but the continued support for Santorum shows that this is at the very least a risky proposition.
The biggest problem for Romney is that it’s unclear just what he can do to solve this burgeoning situation. He’s campaigned as a conservative; it’s too late for him to disown Romneycare; he has his money folks all locked up. He’s going to have to live with this risk. He has no other choice. Neither do conservatives.