With his Illinois blowout, Mitt Romney has all but formalized his party’s nomination for the presidency. His numbers were substantially better than anticipated, with at least 42 of the state’s 69 delegates thus far apportioned to him. With the coveted Jeb Bush endorsement (we’re being ironic), he should power his way to victory, regardless of Rick Santorum’s likely win in Louisiana this Saturday.
The Romney camp is embracing the idea of hitting the "reset button" on the campaign after wrapping up the nomination, which Santorum loudly condemns as the telegraphing of Romney’s intent to track toward the ideological middle during the general election. Although it is certain that Romney will have to move in that direction to have a chance of defeating a personally popular centrist president, to explicitly point out the strategy is considered bad form at this stage of the primary. The far-right base of the GOP will attempt to punish him in states such as Louisiana, North Carolina, and Texas.
Frankly, though, conservative voters aren’t going to embrace Mitt Romney regardless of what he says or does at this point – they’re not too thrilled with any of their candidates this cycle, and short of Sheriff Arpaio, we really can’t imagine anybody they would conceivably warm to. The vaunted A-list – those luminous Repubs who aren’t running this time around – doesn’t seem so luminous once we look at them, certainly not through the blood-colored lenses of the far-right GOP voter. Chris Christie? Didn’t he say nice things about Whitney Houston? GONG. Mitch Daniels? Doesn’t the issues with the wife make him unelectable? GONG. Jeb Bush? Can a guy with the last name "Bush" ever be elected president – really, isn’t it an even greater millstone than the name "Hussein"? Yes, actually, it is. GONG.
There’s only one Republican with a smidgen of charisma on the national scene that we can think of – Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown – and he is not nearly histrionic enough for the rabid right of the GOP to ever embrace in a presidential primary race. But he would be quite formidable in a general election, where centrism rules and moderation wins a four-year lease at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Even if Mitt Romney does track toward the middle, we suspect he will not have a chance against one of the finest orators, and one of the most skilled counter-punching politicians we’ve ever seen. And Barack Obama’s billion dollar war chest won’t hurt, either.