The widespread consensus among pundits and political operators that Mitt Romney’s nomination is no longer in doubt has generated some predictable pushback from conservatives who are still trying to convince themselves that it is possible to stop him. Some seized on this analysis by the Wall Street Journal of the delegate math from earlier in the week as proof that the road ahead for the frontrunner was still steep since it made it clear that Romney had to keep winning at least 50 percent of the delegates in play to clinch before the Tampa convention. When you combine that with the dismay over the Etch A Sketch gaffe as well as the ongoing angst about the candidate’s bona fides still being expressed by respected commentators such as William Kristol, it is possible to imagine there is still room for skepticism about the inevitability of the outcome.
But the are two problems for those trying to concoct such a scenario. The first is that no matter how you play around with the delegate math, nothing short of a Romney collapse will prevent him from getting a majority of convention delegates by the end of June. The second is that even if you think Romney will still find a few more banana peels to slip on in the upcoming weeks, a deadlocked convention requires one of his competitors to catch fire during this period. Yet the only possible alternative is Rick Santorum, a candidate who has already proven repeatedly that he cannot compete in any state that isn’t dominated by evangelicals.
As Nate Silver writes in today’s New York Times, all Romney has to do to win the nomination is to win 46 percent of the delegates still up for grabs. But even a pessimistic evaluation of his chances in the remaining states to vote would give him far more than 50 percent. Romney has already won more than double those won by his competitors and the tough part of the calendar for him will be over this weekend after Louisiana votes. Silver estimates his chances now of gaining a majority of delegates at 91 percent, which strikes me as reasonable if a bit on the low end. The odds of Santorum getting a majority are virtually zero. In politics, as in sports, you have to always remember that anything can happen. Yet the only ways by which Romney is beaten now involves scenarios that are about as likely as his campaign bus getting struck by a meteorite.
It should also be remembered that none of this is happening in a vacuum. As John Podhoretz wrote in today’s New York Post, those hoping for a brokered convention haven’t thought through the consequences of their dream coming true. Irrespective of what anybody thinks about Romney, such a thing would be, as John pointed out, nothing short of a catastrophe for the GOP and guarantee Barack Obama’s re-election as well as doom the party’s Congressional hopes.
One of the reasons why the discussion about the race has moved to one about how exactly the endgame will play out it is that everyone knows this. The idea that Rick Santorum would act in such a way as to deliberately sabotage Romney’s chances in November merely to make an ideological point or out of spite is absurd and shows little insight into his character or record as a politician. Once it’s clear that his hand has been played out, he will withdraw to preserve his future in the party. I’d estimate that moment comes in mid-May at the latest. But whether I’m right about that date or not, unless Santorum miraculously starts winning the sort of states where he has been consistently beaten this year, he will not seek to prolong the race beyond the point where he has no chance of winning.
That might not be what some bitter-end opponents of Romney want to hear but the sooner they make their peace with the inevitable GOP nominee, the better his chances of winning in November will be.