WASHINGTON — Electability seems to have poked its ugly head into the race for the Republican presidential nomination and given the most-likely-to-succeed in this tedious exercise a permanent boost barring a total collapse next Tuesday.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's narrow victory in Michigan and big win in Arizona came at the expense of Rick Santorum, who has got to be considered a cipher when it comes to electability. Romney picked up the votes of women and those who are moderately conservative, and, of course, the Republicans who actually want to recapture the White House and not just make an ideological statement.
Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, has spent his political life trying to tell other people about being a good Christian, which is code for believing as he does. That means following his prescription on women's rights: no birth control, no pregnancy termination under any circumstance, including risk to the mother's life or a fetus' hideous malformation. It means barriers against immigration and a litany of positions on social issues, perhaps even doing away with the separation of church and state. Color that a theocracy.
In other words, Santorum's idea for the presidential mansion seemingly would be a clearinghouse for national morals as defined by the dogma that he has lived by most of his own life. That may be good for like-minded folk, but hardly the stuff for political victory in a broad-based electorate in the 21st century.
The votes that Romney got in his birth state as well as in always-conservative Arizona clearly answered the question of who is best suited in this current crop of candidates to run against President Barack Obama in November. While Romney is often inept and far from exciting, most Republicans are coming to the conclusion that he is their only hope.
Next week is Super Tuesday, with Ohio's primary the most important for Romney. If he were once again to show a lack of stamina by losing this historically vital state for Republicans, all bets are off. It hardly seems likely that would occur.
Even the most traditionally "conservative" Republicans — and by that I mean on vital issues such as the economy, immigration, foreign policy, spending and defense — are expressing private concern that no one in the GOP field can appeal to the independents needed to unseat Obama. Still they would find it far more comfortable with Romney than anyone else available at the moment, including Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.
If Romney had lost Michigan, it would be easy to imagine an all-out effort among politically savvy party leaders to convince a more promising possibility to declare before the national party gathering in Tampa, Fla. in August for a brokered convention. That possibility now is far less likely. A Romney loss in Ohio, however, might regenerate efforts in that direction.
There are 437 delegates up for grabs on Super Tuesday. Georgia leads with 76, Ohio, 66 and Tennessee, 58. Gingrich, badly trailing, is looking toward Georgia, his home state, for salvation. But the probability of that giving him the boost necessary to stimulate his flagging campaign is not good. Romney also must have a good showing in Massachusetts, where he served as governor. Santorum also needs to make a showing in Georgia, Oklahoma and Tennessee, where his brand of conservatism is prominent.
Once again, Romney is benefiting from a seemingly growing sentiment among conservatives that their political hopes depend on a broad appeal in November. What good does it do to advocate a cause without a chance of winning the election? This silly self-emulation in politics to make a point leaves one in a permanent state of impotence.
It does happen. In 1968 and '72, former Alabama Gov. George Wallace was chosen by many as the messenger, winning several important primaries despite the fact he had no chance of being elected. If Republicans haven't completely done themselves in by the brutal attacks on one another, they still might salvage at least a chance for recapturing the presidency — but only with Romney.
Email Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at email@example.com.