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The GOP Race Gets Messy
Is Santorum’s surge a sign of voters’ confidence in him or distrust of Romney?

Mitt Romney speaks in Grand Junction, Colo., February 6, 2012.

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Jonah Goldberg

Okay, I give up.

About a week ago, I wrote a column making a case for Mitt Romney as the GOP nominee. My argument was aimed at fellow conservatives who just can’t get their minds — or at least their hearts — around a Romney candidacy. The details aren’t important right now (and they’re easy enough to find with the interwebs these days).

The reason I wrote the column in the first place was that I felt the cold steel barrel of reality’s revolver pressing up against the back of my head, saying “write it.”

Romney’s going to be the nominee. He’s vastly preferable to Obama. If he’s the inevitable nominee, then better for conservatives to make peace with the idea.

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And then, lo and behold, Rick Santorum bursts into the motel room, knocks the gun from reality’s hands and puts reality in a chokehold. “Not so fast.”

Even if Romney becomes the nominee, it’s difficult to exaggerate the significance of Santorum’s trifecta this week in Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado. In 2008, Romney won Minnesota by a mile (if you define a mile as 19 percentage points), winning more than half the counties. On Tuesday, he lost every county and came in third place. In Missouri, he lost every county, and Santorum won every county. In Colorado, where Romney was the heavy favorite, he lost by 5 percentage points, 40- 35. In 2008, Romney won Colorado with 60 percent of the vote; he won 56 counties out of 64. On Tuesday, he captured a mere 16 counties in Colorado.

The lamentations of Team Romney count for little. They prattle about low turnout, as if the “front-runner’s” failure to excite the base is an asset. They mutter that these were beauty contests and non-binding votes where no delegates were awarded.

True enough. But no delegates were awarded in the Iowa Caucuses either. Romney seemed to think those mattered. More important, these three states offered a huge referendum on Romney, and the crowd rose up to say, “Meh.”

Team Santorum understandably wants everyone to believe that this was a huge endorsement of their guy’s message and candidacy. “I don’t stand here to claim to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney,” Santorum proclaimed Tuesday night in Missouri. “I stand here to be the conservative alternative to Barack Obama.”

I’m sure he’s sincere. Indeed, that’s one of the things people genuinely admire about Santorum: He doesn’t need to fake his sincerity about anything.



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