Super Tuesday just shows what we all predicted: Absent a better candidate, the GOP race would be a mess

by Ryan Streeter on March 7, 2012. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

Emerging from the sun and sand on the California coast to note just a thing or two about last night.

There’s a lot of commentary to sift through, but I think Rich Lowry basically sums it up by noting that Romney seems to be limping to the nomination by getting enough voters who say “Eh, I guess.”

As Lowry points out, Romney is the only candidate who has run the textbook campaign, flush with cash and organized to the hilt. But that has failed remarkably to help him wrap up the nomination swiftly:

[Santorum's] performance has been amazing given Romney’s advantages. Romney is the only candidate who has bothered to or been capable of running a traditional presidential campaign. He built an organization, raised money, ran an opposition research shop, and garnered endorsements. He has relied on this machinery to see him through what has turned out to be more of a grind than he ever expected…No one writing a political science textbook would ever recommend running a campaign the way Santorum does–on gut instinct and without ever delivering a speech that is written down. What he loses in crispness by this approach he gains in sincerity.

Doing things “the right way” doesn’t take you as far as it should if you can’t convince voters that you are the leader for the times. That’s Romney’s problem. So we’re left parsing out the primaries by the conventional categories. Lowry points out that Romney does well with the wealthy, Santorum with the working class. No surprise there.

Romney consistently fares worse among very conservative voters and better with moderates, as Jay Cost has been tracking through the primary. No surprise there.

In the end, it all boils down to whether Romney can pull enough “Eh, I guess” voters his way to win the nomination, leaving him with the subsequent job of building a coalition of independents big enough to take the White House.

And this is where I think the GOP is losing in a big way, no matter how the nomination and general election work out. The story of this campaign has boiled down to which less-than-satisfactory candidate can pull enough votes together. The big issues – crony capitalism, reforming entitlements for the sake of the young, competitiveness beginning with education, radical tax reform, and so on – have basically fallen by the wayside.

All the focus now on how Santorum appeals to evangelicals or Romney to the wealthy has become much more about the stylistic elements of a campaign – which we always have – instead of about a vision of the future that excites anyone. None of the remaining candidates seems capable of putting forward a bold vision that overpowers Obama’s pathetic excuse for leadership.

That’s why a good many of us were enthused about the prospect of Mitch Daniels or Paul Ryan entering the race. They would have weathered the stylistic elements of the campaign by staying tough on the big issues. The present candidates seem incapable of doing that.