Victory At What Cost?

Paul Begala: Mitt Romney Wins Now, Loses Later

After Wisconsin, Romney probably has the nomination. But has he moved too far right to win in November?

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April is the kindest month for Mitt Romney. His sweep of Wisconsin, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., makes his lead in delegates effectively insurmountable and his nomination inevitable. Romney is almost certain to win the next cluster of April primaries: Connecticut, Delaware, New York, and Rhode Island, and if he can defeat Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania (where Santorum has not won an election in 12 years), well, then you can call the dogs and pee on the fire, 'cause the hunt will be over.

The GOP nominating fight has been more of a census than an election. Wherever the evangelical vote was high, and income and educational levels low, Santorum or Gingrich tended to win. And where voters were more affluent and moderate, Romney romped. Take Mississippi, please. The majority of Republicans there believe President Obama is a Muslim, according to a much-debated Public Policy Polling survey. (Hey, it's the Magnolia State, not the Mensa State.) Forty-three percent of the Mississippians who voted in the March 13 GOP primary had a college degree, while 50 percent of Florida Republicans are college grads. Santorum won Mississippi; Romney won Florida.

But perhaps Wisconsin is a turning point. Just 44 percent of Badger State Republicans have college degrees, but Romney defeated Santorum there handily. Romney won college-educated voters by a solid 11 percent and won among those who did not go to college by a respectable five points. What a contrast to Mississippi, where Romney lost the noncollege vote to both Santorum and Gingrich.

Wisconsin brought similarly good news for Romney on the economic gap. Romney has always won the Thurston Howell III vote, but he has always lost the Gilligan vote. In Wisconsin, he still won the über-rich by a whopping 19-point landslide. More important, for Romney, he was able to tie Santorum among those making between $50,000 and $100,000 and only barely lost those making less than $30,000.

Too many analysts are focusing on Romney's weakness among conservatives. That's not the problem. Republicans have the greatest tool in history for motivating conservatives to vote Republican in November: Barack Obama. So, yes, the right will sigh, shrug, and settle for Mitt. And no, their hearts won't be in it—until they see the first Obama rally. The sight of our president standing before 50,000 cheering Democrats, looking like a cross between JFK and Al Green, will send them running, not walking, to the polls.

No, Romney's problem isn’t ideology; it's demography. And so all his desperate and pathetic pandering to the kook right has solved a problem he never really had—and created a problem he may not be able to cure: Women. Latinos. Seniors. The moves Romney made in the primary season put him in a deep hole with these three key constituencies. He attacked Rick Santorum from the right on contraception, called for an end to all Title X funding for family planning, and said he wanted to "get rid of" Planned Parenthood. Wait till moderate, independent women hear that. He attacked Santorum, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich from the right on immigration, pledged to veto the Dream Act, praised Arizona's immigration law, won praise from controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and his super PAC ran ads bashing Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Tell that to Latinos, whose voting power has more than quadrupled in the last 20 years. Finally, there is Romney's bromantic embrace of the Ryan Budget, which he hilariously called "marvelous." (Was he channeling Billy Crystal's Fernando Lamas?) The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says the Romney-Ryan budget would give millionaires an extra $265,000 tax cut, but cause "the gradual demise of traditional Medicare and produce few budgetary savings." Tell that to your grandmother.

While Romney seems to have secured the GOP nomination by pandering to social conservatives, he may have crippled himself among the constituencies that will likely decide the fall election. And so, for Mitt Romney, November may be the cruelest month.