I was giddy with excitement Tuesday night as I checked the Drudge Report before election returns came in. His headline was “Mitt takes Mississippi- Alabama still tight.” Intrade had Mitt up to 87% likely to win in Mississippi, and Drudge’s main photo was of a Mitt campaign rally, with the caption “South’s New Favorite Son?”
When the actual returns came in and Mitt narrowly lost in both states, the narrative shamelessly shifted from “Mitt wins in the South! This race is over!” to “Mitt came in third! His candidacy is collapsing!” in the blink of an eye. It was a dispiriting night for us Romneybots, but it really shouldn’t have been. All it shows is that the media loves a dramatic narrative, when, in fact, the real surprise last night was that Mitt was even in contention, which nobody predicted as recently as a week ago.
So here’s the truth.
Mitt Romney won more delegates Tuesday night – 41 – than Rick Santorum – 35 – or Newt Gingrich – 21 – or Ron Paul – 1. He did so by virtually tying Newt Gingrich in his backyard of Alabama, and coming in a very close third in what was essentially a three-way-heat in Mississippi, where Santorum’s supposedly overwhelming win netted him precisely one more delegate than Mitt. And then Mitt blew everyone else away in Hawaii and American Samoa, and he widened his delegate lead as he continued to inevitably plod on to the nomination.
This is a showing that was only disappointing in light of recently raised expectations. Had you told Mitt Romney at the end of February that he would be neck-and-neck with both Gingrich and Santorum in two strongholds of the Deep South, he would have been thrilled. On Super Tuesday, everyone was talking about how the next week was in territory “unfavorable” to Romney – i.e. they hates them Mormons down in Dixie – and everyone expected him to lose. The fact that winning became a considerable possibility should be seen as nothing less than miraculous. Mitt also won with minimal campaign expenditures – he didn’t start investing in these two states until very late in the game. The current narrative that insists Tuesday night was a disaster for Romney is based on goofy perceptions, not reality.
The problem, of course, is that with politics, perception is realty.
Very few people in the media are willing to openly discuss the real reason Mitt lost Mississippi and Alabama. The Associated Press talked about it this way:
In Mississippi and Alabama, 80 percent or more of voters leaving their polling places said they were born again Christians or evangelical. Those voters have been reluctant to rally to Romney’s side in the primaries and caucuses to date.
So those voters are “reluctant.” What a nice, gentle expression. It certainly sounds better than “Those voters think Mitt Romney’s church is an anti-Christian, demonic cult, which means that 80 percent of the electorate in these states don’t wanna legitimize Satan by voting for one of his minions.”
Perhaps that’s a bit hyperbolic, but it’s closer to the truth than “reluctant” is.
National Review Online contributor Michael Walsh offers this helpful tidbit:
Nobody wants to talk about it, but one possible explanation is that Romney’s Mormonism is playing poorly in the Deep South.
Yes, quite. That’s one possible explanation. Another is that aliens have tampered with the election results. The first possible explanation is the only plausible one. Yet still we have to suffer through feints and dodges that imagine that the Mormonism isn’t what’s dragging Mitt down, such as National Review’s contention yesterday that Romney’s “trouble with blue-collar voters will not be so easily fixed.”
That’s a problem, but it’s so tiny compared to the religious problem that it’s really not worth mentioning. Most of those blue-collar voters are evangelical voters, and it’s Mitt’s Mormonism, not his money, that troubles them most. And, in fact, those troubles would be fixed instantly if Mitt were to walk away from his faith.
Presto! Mitt’s now a Presbyterian. Trouble fixed.
So today, as I’m faced with headlines screaming “Romney looks weaker with every contest” and “Worst of outcomes for Mitt Romney,” I get increasingly frustrated with everyone’s insistence on ignoring the obvious. Mitt went into a region where he was able to be competitive among people who think he’s an agent of the Devil, and he managed to walk away from that region with almost as many delegates as the guy who won – and then widen his overall delegate lead with a Hawaii win. He lost the evangelical vote in Mississippi by only 8%, as opposed to when he lost the evangelical vote in Tennessee by 18% just one week earlier. That shows a candidate getting stronger, not weaker. That shows momentum, a momentum that misleading headlines and warped expectations are designed to squelch.
I don’t know if the headlines will be successful, but I do know that Mitt will continue to plod on, and that he’s doing far better than this Mormon ever thought he could. I feel I live in Bizarro World when the “worst of all outcomes for Mitt Romney” is that the guy continues to widen his lead.