THE STUMP MARCH 29, 2012
We’re talking a whole lot less about the Republican primaries than we were a week or two ago, which my former colleague Chris Cillizza attributes to the endorsements of Mitt Romney by Marco Rubio and others, which Chris suggests have effectively ended the GOP race:
In just the last 9 days — since Romney won the Illinois primary — he has been endorsed by former Florida governor Jeb Bush and former President George H.W. Bush while leading tea party Senator Jim DeMint has said kind things about him and Freedomworks, a tea-party aligned group, has dropped its opposition to him as the nominee. Add Rubio’s support into that mix and it’s clear that the slew of endorsements for Romney in recent days have done something for the Massachusetts governor that winning primaries had not: Make clear he is the Republican presidential nominee.
Think about it. Romney’s victories in Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Illinois all came after polling suggesting he was either trailing or tied with former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Romney’s come-from-behind victories in each state did little to rally the activist base of the party behind him despite the fact that with each win he was building a delegate edge over his rivals that made him insurmountable — or close to it.
After each victory, Romney and his political team would plead their case to reporters; You said he needed to win, he won, they would argue. What more does he need to do? But, it never worked. Until the Bushes, Rubio and DeMint stepped in, that is. The diverse elements of the GOP came together in that quartet of endorsements — DeMint and Rubio from the tea party wing, the Bushes from the establishment wing — to make clear to anyone who still had doubts that while it had been a good race, the race was now over.
I'm not so sure. It seems to me that this is another case of us political reporters underestimating, consciously or not, our own role in the process. The fundamentals of the Republican primary are not a whole lot different this week than they were two weeks ago. Then, Romney and his SuperPAC were doing their best to obliterate Santorum with TV ads in Ohio and Illinois; now they’re doing the same in Wisconsin, where as of two days ago the SuperPAC had run 1,647 times the charming ad attacking Santorum for supporting voting rights for felons who have served their sentences—an ad that is quite remarkable coming from the son of the governor who stood up for civil rights when it counted.
No, if there’s anything that’s really changed this week it was that ... we had something else to write and talk about, the Supreme Court health care case. One doesn’t have to be a card-carrying postmodernist to recognize that reporters have a role in establishing the reality of the campaign. That we turned our attention from the race so quickly and totally suggests that it might have sputtered to an end a while ago if we’d had something else to distract ourselves with. But we didn’t, and so we kept ourselves occupied with fevered speculation about delegate counts and brokered conventions. Rubio and DeMint didn’t end the Republican race—Anthony Kennedy, Don Verrilli and Jeffrey Toobin did.
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