It is a mathematical improbability that Rick Santorum will get to the magic number of 1,144 — the number of delegates needed to be the Republican Presidential nominee. It is a political improbability that Rick Santorum will stop Mitt Romney from getting to 1,144.Last night in Illinois, Mitt Romney won his first victory without caveats.Even in Florida, a big win, there were plenty — counties that saw increased turnout rejected him. The northern part of the state rejected him. It required an amalgamation of voters not quite typical of the base to get Romney the nod in Florida.In Illinois, Romney won. Period. The Santorum campaign stumbled badly in Puerto Rico, gave up a lead in Illinois, and the candidate proved horribly undisciplined. Like Dug the dog in Up getting distracted by every random squirrel, Rick Santorum loses all ability to focus when social issues come up. His lack of discipline and message focus steering those issues to families as he did so beautifully in the Mesa, AZ debate has hindered him and solidified a media narrative that he is more concerned with those issues than jobs and the economy. It is not fair. It is not even accurate. But fairness and accuracy are rare commodities in American retail politics and Rick Santorum has not leveraged his strengths well.On the other hand, Mitt Romney’s win in Illinois still highlights his struggles. Blue collar voters are not fond of him. Staunchly conservative voters are not either. Evangelical voters also are not fond of him. The voters do not feel quite comfortable with their pick. But though evangelicals and social conservatives are the base of the base of the Republican Party, they are not enough to stop Mitt Romney and a spending advantage some have estimated topped 20 to 1 against Santorum in Illinois.This is not to say the race is over. Far from it. Rick Santorum will probably win Louisiana. Conservatives will rally to Santorum and continue protesting Romney as the nominee. But it will not be enough. Romney will do well in New England and the remaining mid-Atlantic states. He will do well out west, winning California.He will be the nominee.
Theoretically, Rick Santorum could keep Romney from getting to 1,144. But as Romney piles up more and more wins and neither the Gingrich nor Paul campaigns remain factors, let alone have pulses, the inevitable will set in. Conservatives may not really like Mitt Romney, but they do not want a fractured party too divided to beat Barack Obama. There will be no white knight, no dark horse, and no brokered convention. We have our nominee.If, come November, Mitt Romney wins, he will owe it to a lot of Republicans who put their reputation on the line and it will be payback time. If Mitt Romney loses, party leaders will undoubtedly try to blame conservatives as they always do, but it will be really hard to cast blame when Romney’s supporters have billed him as Mr. Electable since shortly after they they billed Harriet Miers as a genius conservative pick for the Supreme Court.Either way, conservatives have and no doubt will continue to make it very clear that Mitt Romney may be the standard bearer of the Republican Party, but he most definitely is not the standard bearer of the conservative movement. The disentangling of the movement from the party will continue. So too will our shared effort to oust Barack Obama from the White House.