Rampant Rick.

I thought the title would make a nice change from the textbook ‘Santorum surges’.

So Romney got beaten bad last night, losing all three Mid-West contests. He scored less than half of Santorum’s vote share in Missouri, polled even behind Paul in Minnesota, and lost Colorado after winning it comfortably four years ago.

Bernstein confesses shock, but insists on caution:

We don’t know whether [Santorum’s] able to win a (real, delegate-selection) primary, with the much higher turnout that entails… And then Romney’s money advantage should help him plenty in the multi-state Super Tuesday events. In other words, it’s a long, long, way from a very good night to actually becoming a plausible nominee. Much less the actual nominee.

Cassidy agrees this was a Black Swan, and similarly denies the race is now open once more.

But Begala seems to think this is Big, and gives reason to laugh at any arguments about money:

His super PAC outspent Santorum’s by a 40-to-1 margin. Forty to one. And yet Mitt Romney lost. He lost to a guy who lost his home state by 18 points the last time he was on the ballot there. There’s a technical term in political consulting for a performance like that: it’s called sucking. If Romney can’t beat Rick Santorum, he needs to find another party to run in.

He also mocks the suggestion that Missouri is irrelevant because the result has no impact on delegate allocation:

Technically accurate, politically untrue. Romney losing a nonbinding primary to Santorum is like the New York Yankees losing an exhibition game to a church-league softball team.

Kornacki agrees:

the bigger story is what amounts to a meltdown for Romney, who would like us all to believe that he’s the candidate of inevitability. But the inevitable candidate isn’t supposed to get crushed by 30 points, as Romney did in Missouri. And he’s not supposed to finish a very distant third, 10 points behind Ron Paul, as he did in Minnesota. And he’s certainly not supposed to let a candidate like Rick Santorum, who before tonight had barely been relevant since the Iowa caucuses, post the clean sweep Santorum just did.

Ezra Klein fleshes out the financial message:

all else being equal, it’s better to have lots of money than not enough money. But in politics, all else is rarely equal. And the “all else” can sometimes matter more. It’s clear, for instance, that there are a large number of Republican voters who just don’t really want to vote for Romney. Indeed, his money might even be proving a little counterproductive. It’s so well known that he’s backed by massive superPACs, and it’s so widely reported that the superPACs are going aggressively negative, that it’s led to some bad media coverage for the Romney campaign. It’s likely part of why voters say, by a 2-to-1 margin, that the more they hear about Romney, the less they like him.

Nate Silver stresses just how unforeseen this was:

The betting market Intrade gave Mr. Romney about a 97 percent chance of winning Colorado entering the evening. But he lost the state by 5 points to Mr. Santorum.

I’ve given up trying to think for myself about what the latest twist could possibly mean, but I think that one thing it confirms beyond doubt is that enthusiasm for Mitt is non-existent. If Santorum does the impossible and wins this thing now – or indeed if Gingrich comes back from the dead again (why not?) – Obama’s a shoo-in. But even if Romney eventually emerges as the Republican candidate, he’s going to have to unite a base hostile to his Mormonism and bland, plastic persona that only settled on him as the least-worst option after a painfully long match of mud-slinging in a blood-bath. And even if you happily pick to drink piss because the alternative is (literally) eating shit, that’s not a recipe for inspiration and victory against the most charismatic President in decades. Especially not when your main and only message is that Obama is a socialist that has destroyed the US economy, just as things start to look up. He’s a dreadful candidate, and everybody knew it. At the minimum, last night was a reminder.

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