The Republican primary season has felt less like a horse race than a baseball season, specifically one in which the Yankees are incredibly good, and by dint of money and marginal superiority at every position, just ground everyone else down to the finish. Sometimes they'd win, sometimes they'd lose, but it felt less like a team conquering everyone than the range of other possibilities collapsing down to a single team. Mitt Romney taking Wisconsin with a five-point advantage, along with Maryland and D.C., makes him more inevitable than he was when he took Illinois, if that makes sense. (The fact that Santorum again gave his concession from his home state is just foreshadowing.)
And like baseball, it's all in the numbers:
[T]he demographics told the big story (about 40% in Wisconsin were evangelicals, below the 50% of higher mark in contests that Santorum has won).
Even more striking (emphasis mine):
Santorum has not won in a state with less than 57 percent evangelical population. The average evangelical population in states Santorum has won was 72 percent.
By contrast, the average evangelical population in states where Romney won was 36 percent, about where it was in Wisconsin Tuesday.
It's not that Santorum has a huge advantage among evangelicals; he won Wisconsin evangelicals by a mere four point margin, less than his margin among them in Alabama and Mississippi (I suspect that Wisconsin evangelicals are a bit less so than down south). But scale that advantage up to a state with a massive evangelical population, and Santorum is competitive.
I was a bit proud of myself for expecting Santorum victories in the Deep South despite the polling otherwise—having some local knowledge has its advantages. It's curious: Santorum, the devout Catholic, is the evangelical favorite, and Romney, the Mormon, is in the position that a Catholic would have been in 30-40 years ago. Perhaps decades from now, a Mormon will dominate the South at the expense of the Zoroastrian in the race. The wheel in the sky keeps on turning.
The other interesting thing about the race is that it's shattering the myth that Republicans get in line while Democrats fight within. Jon Stewart had a funny bit the other day about how prominent Republicans, like possible future star Marco Rubio (a lot rides on how Florida fares under its extremely conservative state-level government), aren't even pretending to act like they aren't made miserable by the inevitability that they'll have to vote for Romney:
|The Daily Show with Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Moment of Zen – Marco Rubio's Endorsement|
This has happened before, in the Wallace-Goldwater years. In the long run, the GOP was fine; sticking with Goldwater through a shellacking changed the party in ways that made it arguably more successful at the ballot box, and gave it an ideological center at a time when its ideology was malleable. But there's no Goldwater in sight. 2012 looks rough for the GOP, but for outside observers it will be extremely interesting.
Photograph: midwestnerd (CC by 2.0)