In Republican campaigns for President, Super Tuesday is normally a day when a front-runner fully vanquishes his rivals. Not so last night.
Credit the changes in rules as a main culprit. Awarding delegates proportionally has exacerbated the divisions within the party. We don’t want to overstate this split, as real as it is. Consider what would have happened in 1988 had the GOP lived under these rules: Pat Robertson and Bob Dole would have had every incentive to stay in the race much longer than they did. Or 1996. Pat Buchanan and Steve Forbes could have inflicted greater damage to the eventual front-runner.
Romney has not yet put forward a message that links his economic program to enduring values that will appeal to the evangelical base of his party. And the change in rules allows Santorum and Gingrich to keep moving along. In any other year, these folks would have dropped out by now or they would have become nothing more than the gadflies of old: the Alan Keyes of the race. But this year they are not gadflies, they continue to be real threats to the frontrunner.
Romney’s Michigan and Ohio wins, despite being close, are likely enough for him to continue on his path to the nomination. But the slog continues.
There is no clear line that separates healthy intra party competition from long-term general election damage. But as this race moves into spring with no clear coalescing, it appears that the GOP may have already crossed it.