It was a last minute save. Mitt Romney managed to finish a couple of percentage points ahead of the latest non-Romney -- Rick Santorum -- in his native state's Republican primary Tuesday. In addition to carrying Michigan in a squeaker, he scored a decisive win in Arizona. After many a setback and comeback, those in charge of reviving his campaign after every relapse must have felt like the scientists in those old Frankenstein movies when their work begins to breathe: "It's alive! It's alive!"
It was time for his handlers to exult. For a night. Because now Ohio and the other states in play next (Super) Tuesday become their man's next big test. The GOP's once and future frontrunner has dodged still another bullet, for if he had failed to carry his home state, it might have been the beginning of the end of his presidential campaign. And for his party's hopes of emerging from this nigh-endless primary season with a clear leader. Instead, he's the frontrunner again. Or maybe just the last man standing.
For the moment, the Republicans have paused in their death march. We say paused, not ended, because Super Tuesday could mark either the crystallization or further dissolution of the Republican presidential field this year. The choice facing Republicans becomes ever clearer: Mitt Romney or more indecision.
The GOP's best chance of achieving unity and then victory in the fall now lies in the early resolution of this week-to-week fight for the nomination. It's been kind of fun while it lasted, but there can be much too much of a good thing.
There's still something good to be said about a good old knock-down drag-out for a party's presidential nomination. (Just ask Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.) If it's Mitt Romney who emerges from all this dust -- and mud -- as the Republican nominee, nobody can say he hasn't been vetted. Also scarred and patched and beaten a time or three. By the time the campaign that counts begins, anything Barack Obama throws at him might come as anticlimax after what his fellow Republicans have done to him.
Mr. Romney's intraparty rivals will have done him and the country a favor if he turns out to be the nominee. Anybody serious about becoming president of the United States ought to be tested up, down and sideways, fair and foul. The pressures of a presidential campaign, severe as they are, may be as nothing compared to sitting at that massive desk made of an old ship's timbers in the Oval Office. (The timbers come from an old British sailing ship, the well-named HMS Resolute, courtesy of dear Queen Victoria, who knew what it was to be head of state -- and resolute.)