A few years ago, there was a great deal of commentary that the GOP was becoming the exclusive province of southern evangelicals. And yet all the primary and caucus victories so far this year have gone to a Mormon from Massachusetts, a Catholic from Pennsylvania, and a Catholic who nominally hails from Georgia but grew up in a variety of places including Pennsylvania and . . . (gulp) France.
Gingrich seems to be fading as the alternative to Romney: That’s what happens when your major policy idea comes from an old Andy Griffith TV movie and it turns into the cold open for Saturday Night Live. Santorum is far from a perfect candidate — among other things, he misremembered the national motto while talking about American exceptionalism. But the victories in Minnesota and Missouri suggest that Iowa was not a fluke. He can identify with grassroots Republicans and he speaks to their concerns.
Romney’s defeats do not necessarily spell serious trouble for his candidacy. In 1980, Reagan lost some pretty significant contests to Bush even after he solidified his front-runner status in the New Hampshire primary. But Republican voters do seem to be telling Romney that he’s going to have to earn the nomination. He may get his hair mussed up in the process, but that’s not such a bad thing.
— John J. Pitney Jr. is Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College.