Few Questions Answered for Romney, Santorum, and Gingrich on Super Tuesday

Super Tuesday revealed both nothing and everything about the contest—and the general election in the fall.

By SHARE

With a not-so-Super Tuesday behind us (only about half as many states participated this time as in 2008), where does the GOP nomination race stand now? The voting this week revealed both nothing and everything about the contest—and general election in the fall.

The nothing part was thanks to an unappreciated oddity about this year's cluster of Super Tuesday primaries. To a large extent, it was a series of home games.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich won his home state, Georgia, of course. It was his first win since the game-changing (for a week) blowout in Georgia's long-border neighbor, South Carolina.

Former Gov. Mitt Romney scored convincing victories in Massachusetts and Vermont, both home territory for him, as well as in Idaho, which you might call a surrogate home state, thanks to its large Mormon population.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 GOP hopefuls.]

Rick Santorum and Romney effectively split Ohio, which borders to the east the former Pennsylvania senator's home state and home congressional district, and to the north, a another Romney home, Michigan.

Yes, Santorum won the more socially conservative Tennessee and Oklahoma. But in the mix of religious affiliations and social issues, far more arresting was that, while Santorum has emerged as the favorite of conservative Protestants, he is the one candidate who has shown a hometown weakness, among adherents to his home faith, Catholics. He lost them to Romney in Ohio.

Some years ago, during his first presidential run against Ronald Reagan, after winning Iowa, George H.W. Bush trumpeted his Big Mo, meaning momentum. But when it comes to bragging rights and media hype, Super Tuesday gave no one a Big Mo.

That's what I mean in saying it was a nothing burger.

[See pictures of the GOP candidates reacting to Super Tuesday results.]

And yet in terms of delegates, it was the most significant day so far this year. For on that one No Mo day, Mitt Romney more than doubled his delegate count and may have gone a long way to sealing the nomination. He is a third of the way to the convention votes needed to become the Republican Party nominee. He has now pocketed more than twice as many delegates as Santorum, his closest rival. And he has shown he can win groups that had previously given him trouble, in particular, as political almanacer Michael Barone has pointed out, non-college graduates.

Further, unlike Gingrich and Santorum, Mr. Romney's primary night statement was focused and disciplined. It sharply defined the contrast between him and the president. It was the speech of a candidate ready to run in the fall.

So what about the fall?

Some months ago, the subtext in Republican prognostications was, how can we lose? The economy remained in catastrophic condition. The state of our place in the world was the worst since the Carter presidency. And the president's approval ratings were among the worst on record for a chief executive at that point in his term.

Today the subtext is, how can we win?

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

To some extent, this gloom is the manic depression of politics. There is something about the political life that can unsettle even the most stable psyche. Outside of Wisconsin, where recall elections have become as odd a local sport as curling (that invisible-but-for-the-Olympics ice sport played with a barely moving, giant puck and brooms), elected officials and their staffs are virtually the only Americans with truly total job security—until election day, when they engage in the employment version of Russian Roulette. Maddening.

And particularly maddening this year.

The GOP entered the long campaign believing that the sorry state of the job market under this president charted the path to victory this fall. Many have been surprised at the steady rise in people at work, though why they are surprised, I don't know. The collapse in the job market ended in late 2009. Our national job count has been rising steadily since then.

Meanwhile, Democrats celebrate each increase in total employment, but can't understand how it is the proportion of Americans with jobs keeps dropping. The reason, of course, is that job growth, while steady, has been distressingly slow, far from enough to create a position for everyone entering the workforce.

In other words, the health of the job market is not so clear that either party should be living large just now.

The polls are equally opaque. In the Real Clear Politics average of public surveys and the Rasmussen daily tracking, attitudes towards the president remain at historically sour levels. But attitudes toward the GOP candidates are, at the moment, almost as bad.

So where does all that put us, post-Super Tuesday? In a land of questions and, as yet, no answers.

  • Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.
  • Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy
  • Follow the Thomas Jefferson Street blog on Twitter at @TJSBlog.