Time for a postmortem on the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Yes, I know Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich are still out there saying interesting things. And that Rick Santorum says it’s only halftime and argues he can somehow overtake Mitt Romney by carrying his home state of Pennsylvania.
But polls there show a close race. And the idea that, if Romney falls short of a delegate majority, superdelegates will throng to a proudly unscripted, shoot-from-the-lip alternative is delusional.
The interesting questions are what the primaries and caucuses tell us about the state of the Republican party and about Mitt Romney’s chances in the general election.
In 2000, a time of apparent peace and prosperity, George W. Bush won the nomination by consolidating cultural conservatives and making inroads among the affluent. Cultural issues were then more important than economics or foreign policy.
This year, a time of economic stagnation and lingering war, Mitt Romney won the nomination by consolidating the affluent and making inroads among tea partiers. Economic issues far overshadow cultural issues.
Romney’s victory margins have come from the suburbs in big metropolitan areas. Unlike Bush, he’s been losing the rural and small-town counties. “Somewhat conservative” voters now personify the Republican party.
All of which suggests that this fall Romney may run much better than recent Republican nominees in affluent northern suburbs. They’ve voted increasingly Democratic over the past 20 years, turning target states into safely Democratic states. Now they may turn back again.
Additional evidence comes from the Pew Research surveys showing Democrats losing ground in the Obama years among white Catholics and Jews — groups disproportionately concentrated in affluent northern suburbs.
Affluent voters like articulate candidates and dislike impulsive ones. George W. Bush, despite his eloquent speeches, didn’t come across as articulate. He seemed to enjoy his Texas twang and mangled sentences with happy abandon.
John McCain, more articulate, came across as impulsive, notably when he suspended his campaign amid the financial meltdown.
Through the primaries, Mitt Romney has come across as articulate if not exciting and methodical rather than impulsive.