Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of the board for News Corp., the parent of Fox News Channel, tweeted his support for Rick Santorum a couple of weeks ago (yes, Mr. Murdoch is now a Twitter guy). He wrote of the stakes for Santorum in today’s crucial Michigan primary: “Win Michigan, game over.”
That view has focused the political world on today’s contest in Michigan. Let us look ahead and examine where the GOP race goes after today.
If Mitt Romney hangs on and wins Michigan, he of course continues on — and so does Santorum — into next week’s Super Tuesday. But even with a win in his home state, Romney has become a much-diminished political figure.
His political tin ear, verbal gaffes, flip-flops, and perpetual pandering have damaged him among the crucial 40 percent of American voters who call themselves independents. Among these swing voters, Romney has an almost-two-to-one negative rating.
GOP voters — after 6 years of almost-constant campaigning — have not connected with Romney; clearly that is not going to change.
He is — simply stated – a weak political candidate.
But, if he hangs on tonight, he will soldier on with the GOP establishment (shakily) still in his corner and his financial backers still writing checks to him, even though more and more of them have expressed private doubt about his viability.
Next week is Super Tuesday. Ohio is the most crucial of the 10 states that have either primaries or caucuses next week — and Santorum is ahead there, too. Plus Ron Paul does well in caucuses, and Newt Gingrich will win Georgia and make a showing perhaps in Oklahoma and Tennessee. So Romney may not have a great Tuesday next week either.
But — for now — tonight is the ball game.
OK, what if Romney loses tonight?
As Carole King wrote and sang, “I feel the Earth Move.” That will be the prevailing sentiment inside the GOP political world.
If Mitt Romney cannot win the state he grew up in and where his father, George Romney, was a popular three-term governor, then he will be deemed — even by many of his own supporters and donors and bundlers — as a political loser.
Panic will spread throughout the Republican establishment.
Republicans fear they not only will lose to Obama in November — frankly more and more in the party have already privately concluded that — but fear that a weak Romney or a disastrous Santorum at the top of the ticket will doom Senate and House candidates, too.
You will hear that the GOP establishment is begging a new candidate to jump in the race to “save the party.”
And there will be more talk of a brokered GOP convention in Tampa to come up with a new candidate.
And, along with this, an independent third candidate may emerge to run against both the GOP nominee and President Obama in November.
OK, what will happen today in Michigan?
Well, Romney should have won this primary going away after Santorum’s pathetic debate performance last week. But the Ford Field Fiasco, the “Anne Drives Two Cadillacs” statement, and the NASCAR double-screw-up — pic with car sponsored by Santorum and saying, “Some of my best friends own NASCAR Teams” — have made this race a virtual tie, with Santorum again having late momentum.
Thus, it will be so close — perhaps too close to know the outcome until very late tonight — and we may have a disputed outcome ala Iowa and Maine.
In the end, Romney is the net loser no matter how it ends up.
Look for more surprises in the weeks ahead.
John LeBoutillier is a former U.S. congressman and a political commentator who has contributed to many major newspapers and magazines. Read more reports from John LeBoutillier — Click Here Now.
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