“We didn’t win by a lot, but we won by enough, and that’s all that counts.”
So said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney after his surprisingly close victory over former Senator Rick Santorum in the Michigan primary Tuesday.
Romney prevailed by 41% to 38% in his home state, where his father was a popular governor and auto company executive four decades ago. The margin of victory: 32,000 votes, far fewer than the polls predicted a few weeks ago, when Romney seemed poised for an easy victory.
But Santorum caught Romney and his team napping. The social conservative swept caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado and a non-binding primary in Missouri three weeks ago. That gave him a huge head of steam and pushed him ahead of Romney in many polls, including in Michigan.
Then two things happened. Romney’s money machine outspent Santorum’s ad hoc campaign two to one in Michigan.
And the former senator began to think voters really, really liked him, so he shared far too much. President Kennedy’s famous speech on the separation of church and state made him want to throw up. President Obama was a “snob” for wanting everybody to go to college, where they would be indoctrinated by liberal professors. And Santorum doubled down on his bizarre statements about contraception—even during marriage.
That, along with Santorum’s weak performance in last week’s CNN Arizona presidential debate—where the unlikely political bromance tag team of Romney and Rep. Ron Paul took turns attacking him—changed the campaign’s direction.
In Michigan, Romney won big in Detroit and its suburbs and also did well among older, better educated, more affluent Republican voters—the same pattern that helped him cruise to victory in Florida. Santorum prevailed among the very conservative, most religious and strongest Tea Party supporters, as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich did in South Carolina.
Significantly, exit polls show Romney trounced Santorum among those who viewed beating President Obama as the most important quality—the whole rationale for Romney’s candidacy.
The pundits always say candidates must show who they really are. Santorum became unglued when he did precisely that. He’s a religious fanatic, and so in my view not fit to be president of the United States. Michigan voters who had problems with Romney—and who doesn’t?—took a deep breath and decided Mitt was the best alternative.
So, after Michigan (and his easy victory in Arizona), Romney appears back on track. He’s hinted he’s going to stop twisting himself into a pretzel to please people who will never like him no matter what he does. “It’s very easy to excite the base with incendiary comments,” he said early Tuesday. “I’m not willing to light my hair on fire to try and get support. I am who I am.”
I am who I am. Maybe Romney should stick to that credo from now on. In Michigan, at least, Republican voters showed they may be crazy but they’re not insane.