Most Electable?

03.13.12

Romney’s Dixie Debacle in Mississippi and Alabama Primaries

By coming in third to Santorum and Gingrich in Mississippi and Alabama, Romney has gone from inevitable to unelectable, says Paul Begala.

Let me be the first to call on Mitt Romney to get out of the race. By placing third in Alabama and Mississippi, losing to Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich in both states, Romney has gone from inevitable to unelectable. Somebody strap him to the roof of one of his Cadillacs and drive him off to one of his many mansions.

One of the great legends of political consulting is the Dog Food Problem: an apocryphal tale of a company that had the best packaging, the best advertising, the best marketing. But there was only one problem: the dog wouldn't eat it. Forevermore we should no longer call it a Dog Food Problem. We should call it a Mitt Romney Problem.

In truth Romney is still probably the most likely GOP nominee. He has the most money, the best organization, the most endorsements, and the best hair. There is only one thing wrong with the Mitt Romney campaign: Mitt Romney. If he were smart he would do nothing but run ads and run away. Let the very impressive Ann Romney do the person-to-person campaigning, because the hard truth is the more voters see Mitt Romney, the less they like him.

Before the polls closed on election day, the oh-so-smug millionaire  arrogantly dismissed the plucky former Pennsylvania senator, telling CNN's Wolf Blitzer that Santorum is a politician at the "desperate end" of his campaign. Instead, it was Romney and his team who were desperately trying to explain away their debacle in Dixie.

Mitt Romney is certainly cheesy, but it's Rick Santorum who has the grit. Santorum was outspent five-to-one by Team Romney in 'bama and  two-to-one in Mississippi. Romney's Super PAC hammered the former  Pennsylvania senator unrelentlessly (as George W. Bush might say). Romney locked up the endorsement of Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, and with it the powerful machine of former Governor Haley Barbour. And yet he came in third.

Santorum beat Romney despite Gingrich winning a chunk of the conservative vote. If Santorum had faced Romney one-on-one, it would have been a wipeout.

When will politicians learn that "electability" is not a compelling reason to vote for a presidential candidate? Hillary Clinton's campaign ran aground on the shallow shoals of "electability," and now Romney's yacht has done the same. Turns out that when you write "Surrender, Dorothy" across the sky, Dorothy actually doesn't surrender. In fact, it makes her even more determined to resist.

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Watch Rick Santorum's Victory Speech

In his victory speech, Santorum cemented his David versus Goliath narrative, proclaiming, "In spite of all the money that's been spent—all the money—and all the support of the establishment, you stood with the grandson of a coal miner who is always gonna fight for you." Santorum's passion, like his conservatism, is authentic. Perhaps that's why he has been able to overcome Romney's massive advantages in  cash and establishment endorsements.

What's even more impressive, Santorum beat Romney despite Newt Gingrich claiming a substantial chunk of the conservative vote. If Santorum had been able to face Romney one-on-one it would have been a wipeout. Republican mandarins will likely tug on their beards and call for Gingrich to exit the race. They should be careful what they wish for.