Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Live-blogging the 2012 Michigan and Arizona primaries: Two terrible candidates and a GOP divided against itself


UPDATED FREQUENTLY.


7:10 pm - Okay, let's do this. I'm still not quite over my extensive live-blogging of the Oscars two nights ago, an exhausting exercise, but politics beckons. Well, Republican politics. Certainly the Oscars are political as well, in a different but similarly ridiculous way. I'll be commenting throughout the evening, a lot, so keep checking back, with updates to this post, and Richard will be weighing in with his commentary as well.

7:16 pm - My predictions for tonight: Romney by 3 in Michigan and 17 in Arizona. Nate Silver notes that Michigan is too close to call, and of course he's right. Democratic turnout in the open Republican primary is helping Santorum a lot, but I don't think it'll be enough. Maybe, as a massive Santorum fan (in a way, or at least for today), I'm just being overly pessimistic, but I figure that Romney's huge spending advantage will help him in the end.

7:20 pm - From WaPo's Felicia Sonmez (via twitter): "Mitt Romney on Tuesday downplayed the significance of a potential loss in the Michigan primary, telling Fox Business Network, "If I were turned down by Massachusetts, where I have lived for the last 40 years and served as governor, that would be a little harder to explain."

Ah, yes, the expectations game. And for Romney, once the pretty clear frontrunner, it's all about lowering them as much as possible so that at the very worst he can walk away with a big win in Arizona and a close loss in Michigan and still look like a plausible option for Republicans, still the narrow frontrunner. He'd have a hard time explaining a loss in Michigan in his speech later tonight, but he could just ignore it by saying it was a tough race but now he's looking ahead, no mention of how he lost a state he's called one of his own, where he outspent his rivals by a wide margin, and where his name and organization really should have been enough to put him over the top.

Would it be harder to explain a loss in Massachusetts (where, of course, he won't lose)? Yes, but, well, no, not really, not to anyone who's being honest about what's going on (and who's being honest about Romney). He's a terrible candidate, a privileged rich douchebag (as I keep saying) who's widely viewed as a massive phony who will do and say anything for votes and who's deeply unpopular throughout his own party and particularly with the non-establishment. A strong candidate would have wrapped this thing up by now. Mitt's not a strong candidate. Similarly, a strong alternative would have beaten Mitt by now. No one thrown up by the right has been a strong alternative, including Santorum. This is why Romney will be the nominee. And why the party will wither from a lack of enthusiasm, with so many of the faithful, when Romney take the stage to give his acceptance speech in Tampa this summer, wondering what the hell just happened.

7:33 pm - Okay, I'm off to have some dinner. Be back soon with more.

8:05 pm - If you want to dig a little deeper in Michigan, Chris Cillizza has five counties to watch

8:12 pm - "What happens if Rick Santorum wins Michigan?" asks George S. I thought everyone knew that frogs will fall from the sky.

8:15 pm - Most Michigan polls closed at 8, but some are open until 9. Some results are trickling in... 41-37 for Santorum with 1% reporting, with Paul at 12 and Gingrich at 7. (You can find the results here. And for Arizona here.)

8:18 pm - It should be noted, too, that Michigan lost half its delegates by violating the RNC's schedule (that is, by moving up in the calendar). There are only 30 delegates at stake today, hardly enough to justify all the attention this race has received. But, then, this isn't about delegates, it's about momentum, about what it says about the race as a whole. And a win for either Romney or Santorum would be significant in those terms.

A Santorum aide said that they've already won Michigan: "No matter what the results are, we've won. This is Romney's home state." But that's just spin. Losing by a narrow margin would be something of a moral victory given where Santorum was just a few weeks ago and would allow Santorum to solidify his position as the only viable alternative to Romney, but Romney's been playing the low-expectations game, too, and with a win, no matter how large, he'd be able to solidify his position as the frontrunner and likely nominee, particularly in combination with a big win in Arizona.

But certainly a win for Santorum would be more significant than a win for Romney. Which is to say, Santorum would benefit from a win more than Romney would, as Romney was expected to win here and has had such a hard time staying on top of the pack. Put the other way, a loss for Romney would be more significant than a loss for Santorum, as a loss for Romney would reinforce the narrative that he is incredibly weak (which he is) and that Republicans are desperate for someone else to lead them in November (which they are).

8:34 pm - Not much to say about the results so far. Santorum's up 40-39, with just 71 votes separating them (but with results coming in fairly quickly now).

8:46 pm - Ron Paul's speaking to his supporters. An early speech, but, then, it's not like he had much to wait for. Coherent and engaging, he's making the same points as usual, some of them excellent (about civil liberties and American militarism), most of them the usual right-wing libertarian nonsense. If you've been paying any attention at all, you've heard it all before. But those excellent points deserve repeating, particularly given the way both parties trample all over civil liberties and promote misadventurous warmongering.

8:50 pm - And now for our first comment from Richard...

RKB: Romney's surrogates on the various election coverage programs are still playing the inevitability card. I guess that's the theme that got them this far so they have to stick with it, sort of like dancing with the one that brung ya, but it's a dangerous game. If Romney loses Michigan tonight, all talk of inevitability will probably end pretty quickly.

8:53 pm - David Corn tweets: "'This country doesn't need another war at all.' -- Paul's biggest applause line so far. Are these really Republicans? Check their papers!" They're RINOs, of a sort.

RKB: Howard Fineman on MSNBC is saying that Romney's people are focusing on everyone else's weaknesses rather than Romney's strengths. Chris Matthews called it the "If you think I stink (you should consider the other guy) strategy." The truth may be that Romney doesn't want people to think about him but rather about how much they dislike Obama and how supposedly unprincipled Santorum has been in the campaign.

8:57 pm - Markos Moulitsas tweets: "Results are still within margin." What does that mean? Click on the link or go to my post from earlier. (Briefly, it's about Democratic "support" for Santorum, which might be enough to put him over the top.)

9:01 pm - The networks are calling Arizona for Romney.

9:02 pm - Chuck Todd tweets: "Officially calling Romney the winner of AZ primary, winner take all of 29 delegates. MI is 'too close to call.'" Note: one fewer delegate than in Michigan. And Romney wins easily. Even if Santorum wins Michigan, this shouldn't be forgotten when figuring out what today meant. And with delegates in Michigan handed out proportionally in Michigan and winner-take-all in Arizona (correct me if I'm wrong on that), Romney comes away from today with the most delegates by far.

RKB notes Arizona call is based on exit polls.

RKB: With 20% reporting in Michigan, Romney is ahead of Santorum by a margin of 41% to 38% (74,893 to 71,289), according to CNN.

9:12 pm - Ana Marie Cox tweets: "Blitzer: 'Who could have predicted Romney would be struggling' in Michigan? People in Michigan, mostly." You're a genius, Wolf.

9:13 pm - Yes, Romney has surged into the lead. With 27% reporting, he's up 41 to 38. Now, can he hold on? Michigan exit polls show Romney winning 40 to 37, but Todd tweets: "Our models showing MI may be tighter than those leaky exit numbers folks floated on twitter."

RKB: It may be starting to look like Romney is trending ahead in Michigan. My sense is that it won't matter how much he wins by as long as he wins. It would be such a train wreck for him to lose that my guess is the establishment will swallow hard and throw everything they've got behind Mitt. This will be a wake-up call. They will have believed they dodged a bullet and will finally do what it takes to push him over the top.

My guess is that he wins by 5% and that the meme is that it's over now.

9:21 pm - Check out Cillizza on why Romney's win in Arizona matters: Because of the delegates he won in that winner-take-all primary. And: "Of course, this race for president isn't solely a battle for delegates -- a series of trench warfare battles fought in each state. There's also a symbolic national race going on -- one that is influenced far more by momentum than raw numbers." Hey, I said the same thing back at 8:18 pm! I guess this is the CW. Or just stating the obvious.

RKB: Karl Rove on Fox is predicting a 5-6% victory for Romney in Michigan, claiming that areas that are good for Romney have been slower to report. Rove sounds positively relieved.

9:43 pm - David Roberts (Grist) tweets: "If Wolf Blitzer didn't exist, no one would have to invent him." Line of the night.

9:44 pm - Bored yet? I am. Unless the race somehow tightens, which seems unlikely given how well Romney is doing in Wayne and Oakland counties (two highly-populated Detroit-area counties), it'll be as (I) expected, a clear (if hardly decisive) win for Mitt. And with Arizona already called and Romney likely to win by up near 20 points, well... what more can you say? (I can barely keep up with my twitter feed, and I don't even follow that many people. But there's a lot of repetition now.)

Richard and I have been saying this for some time now, but it does appear that Santorum has peaked and is now on the way down. Which means it's Romney's race to lose. Again. And he'll come out of tonight looking strong -- that will be the perception anyway, if not the reality (he's only strong in relative terms). Santorum may win the non-binding caucuses in Washington on Saturday, but it's hard to see him doing well on Super Tuesday next week. Ohio's the big one, and he's ahead there, but Romney will have the momentum and should be able to win there. Maybe Santorum does well in Tennessee's open primary and/or Oklahoma's closed one, and maybe also in Georgia (where Newt's ahead), but that'd be about it.

I think it's over.

RKB: The Republican spin is still that, should Romney get the nomination, the hard slog to get there will make him stronger as a candidate against Obama. I don't think so. What we are seeing time and again is that Romney is a lousy politician, and we've seen nothing to suggest he is getting any better. More than that, the more people see of him, the less they like him. And as the nominee, people will see a lot more of him.

9:57 pm - Jim Geraghty tweets (via my conservative friend Ed Morrissey): "Great news for Mitt: Looks like 2 big wins tonight! Bad news for Mitt: If the pattern holds, he'll screw it all up tomorrow morning." Let's hope so.

RKB: Romney is starting to open up a significant lead in Michigan, 40% to 36%, with a margin of more than 22,000 votes. CNN isn't calling it yet, so they must have reason to believe there is some volatility, but that's a lot of votes to make up with 59% reporting. It looks over. John King is calling it "almost impossible" for Santorum to come back.

10:03 pm - David Corn tweets: "Don't want to get ahead of returns, but I'm putting my college diploma back on the wall (and will start using hand lotion again)." Don't forget the porn.

10:10 pm - Howard Fineman tweets: "Santorum up with TV ads in every Super Tuesday state but Mass and Vermont. His people say they will focus on Ohio, TN, and even GA." It's his last stand. But it won't matter.

10:13 pm - Santorum speaking. NBC calls Michigan for Romney. Finally.

RKB on Santorum's speech:

Santorum's people are admitting that their guy screwed up over the past few days with his fooling comments about separation of church and state and on education. They are saying that they are going to get back to their core message on jobs and the economy.

Here comes Rick's speech.

Santorum looks crestfallen to me. I wonder if he knows that he had to win here to have a shot. and that it is probably over. Yeah, the thing that made him attractive in the first place was a certain sense of humility that he seems to have lost more recently. As he got some wind in his sails, he really was sounding like a goof.

He's talking about his mom and the fact that she got a college degree when that was rare. Could he be trying to get some of the woman's vote back? Now he's talking about his daughter Elizabeth. Too late, Rick. Women aren't going to vote for you.

Now he's talking about the big bad government that thinks it knows better what's best for Americans. Back to the faux populist message.

Gut reaction to Santorum is that he really is not ready for prime time. He's not impressive on the stump.

Funny thing is that CNN cut away from the Santorum speech to call it for Romney, and they haven't gone back to Santorum. It almost seems a little dismissive.

Ah, but Fox is sticking with Santorum, who by now is rambling. 

*****

Oh man, Santorum is now starting to quote the Declaration of Independence. Is he going to sing, too?

I think Santorum just spoke of the men and women who signed the Declaration of independence. What? Women?

*****

Okay, I now officially want Santorum to go away. Romney may be a douchebag, but Santorum is an idiot.

10:41 pm - Chuck Todd tweets: "Romney on MI: 'didn't win by a lot but we won by enough.' And the 'enough' = no major GOPers calling for new 'white knight' savior."

10:43 pm - What a horrible, horrible speech. Well done, Mitt. You have a great night, at least relative to expectations, and you blow it with your usual rhetorical bullshit. There's a reason no one likes you.

RKB on Romney's speech:

Ann Romney is at the mic doing the obligatory thank yous. She's not that bad. She should be running.

More jobs, less debt, and smaller government is what Romney is saying his campaign is all about.

My god, Romney is boring.

Still amazing that Romney and any Republican gets to blame Obama for not fixing Bush's economic mess fast enough.

Have to say that Romney looks relieved tonight. He knows he barely survived.

It does seem to be a more disciplined speech than is his norm. It's all silly cliches, but that's what he offers. Simple solutions for simple minds.

Ah yes, cutting taxes as a way out of the recession. That'll work.

As I said earlier, this victory should launch Romney and be the end of Santorum and the other pretenders. Romney is a disaster, but he's the one they've chosen.

Romney is also saying that Obama will not be restrained in a second term and will therefore be more dangerous.

Man, even Fox News seems unexcited about Romney. Funny.

10:53 pm - Romney basically begging for money from small-time donors after he just blew his massive load outspending everyone like mad is hilarious. 

11:55 pm - Took a break for Stewart and Colbert. Jon was especially hilarious tonight going after Romney's hypocrisy (over voting in Dem primaries) and Fox hosts spouting Republican talking points.

11:56 pm - So... what's the new narrative? Check out this ludicrous headline on the front page of CNN.com right now: "Home run for Romney" (linking to this). Really? Look, I'll admit, and I've written it here, it was a big night for Romney. But only because expectations for him were so low. Sure, he won Arizona easily, but he's only ahead in Michigan by three points. I get how this works. He spins it as a win and the media, which play right along with the expectations game, give him a push, telling us that he's back, baby, back! But while it's certainly true that he's the frontrunner and likely nominee and that these results serve to confirm him in that position, he's really no stronger than he was before these two votes today. It's pretty clear that any genuinely strong and credible conservative alternative would be beating him. Lucky for him there hasn't been one. And it's certainly not Santorum.

12:01 am - The results: In Michigan, with 93% reporting, it's Romney 41, Santorum 38, Paul 12, and Gingrich 7. Three points. Who predicted a three-point win for Mitt? (Hint: Go back up to the entry at 7:16 pm).

12:03 am - In Arizona, with 80% reporting, it's Romney 47, Santorum 26, Gingrich 16, and Paul 9. That's a 21-point margin. I predicted 17. Oh well.

12:05 am - One thing we haven't talking about tonight... Newt. What now? He's still in the race, or so he said in his speech earlier this evening, but he was noticeably downcast, not the egomanical Newt we've come to know and loathe. But can you blame him? Even he must see the writing on the wall.

In my live-blogging post of the Nevada caucuses on February 4, I speculated as to the over/under, or rather before/after, of Newt getting out of the race:

At his press conference, Gingrich said he's in the race all the way to the convention in Tampa. He may mean it tonight, but things change and one suspects that he'll eventually change his mind. Unless Romney stumbles badly, which hardly seems likely, or Newt can somehow resurrect his campaign a third time with big wins on Super Tuesday on March 6, which also hardly seems likely, he has no shot at the nomination and will only meet more intense resistance within the party the longer he stays in.

Let's put the over/under (before/after) on him getting out of the race at, yes, March 6. Do you take the before or after? I might still take the after.

But if it's March 8, I think it has to be the before. There's just no way he lasts beyond a day after Super Tuesday. The pressure on him to get out will be immense, and even with his massive egomania and loathing of Romney it's hard to see him fighting on beyond that. He is, after all, a hyper-partisan Republican. Ultimately, he'll do what the party needs him to do.

Which is to say, I thought he'd make it to Super Tuesday but then get out the next day. What do we say now? Will he make it to next week? I'll still say yes, because he wants to win Georgia at least. But that will be that. I say he gets out on March 7. Oh, how the temporarily mighty, then sort of mighty again, have fallen.

12:18 am - Okay, that's it for me tonight. We've gone on long enough. We'll be back in the morning with new posts, including two on the retirement of Olympia Snowe. (Oh, Romney's now up by just 20 in Arizona!)

Good night, everyone.

(photo)

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