Mitt Romney missed a chance to wrap up the GOP nomination last night, placing a disappointing third in the Alabama and Mississippi primaries. The delegate count is still in his favor, but the bigger story here is that the "front runner" lost to both Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. This means only one thing - we need another debate.
This news will be hard to take for the establishment. But what isn't hard to take for the establishment when they don't get their way? (Their way, of course, being you accept Romney and shut the hell up already!) The reality is that the American people don't yet have a candidate, and they reject the "electability" argument. They agree with Santorum's view that the establishment, with support from the media, is telling us that Romney is our only option.
Romney has more than double Santorum’s delegates and triple Gingrich’s, but he still can’t deliver a knockout blow. After five years and untold millions of dollars, he still can’t win in the South. Florida notwithstanding (and Florida, in the minds of many, doesn’t count as South), Romney has lost Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. Louisiana is coming up fast.
The Romney campaign downplays these losses:
"It's all about getting more delegates," Romney told reporters Tuesday as he campaigned in Missouri, which holds caucuses Saturday. His campaign said he met his goal of claiming a third of the delegates up for grabs Tuesday.
So the goal of the frontrunner was to get a third of the delegates?
Delegates matter. The prize is 1144 delegates, enough to clinch the nomination. Each time the “front runner” comes in third, there’s less chance he will reach that magic number prior to the GOP convention.
What Romney needs – and he’s not the only one – is a debate. Romney needs a debate more than he needs oxygen, Kid Rock or Jeff “you might be a redneck” Foxworthy.
Sure, his lead is big, but it's not big enough. With every third place finish the "front runner" has, the closer he gets to a decision being made for him at the convention. Does Romney really want to risk that? A debate can remove the risk, and allow him to - AGAIN! - restate his electability case to America.
He's not the only one in need of a debate. Santorum lost Ohio, and, truth be told, badly. Three weeks before the primary, Santorum was ahead of Romney 42% to 24%. On primary night, Santorum lost by 1%. He went from +18 to -1; a 19 point swing in three weeks. With Wisconsin, New York and Pennsylvania fast approaching, Santorum needs to restate his case as well. "I'm Rick Santorum, I'm more than just the Heartland candidate and let me show you how I can beat Barack Obama!"
Only a debate can set one of these men free. Erick Erickson thinks a debate is a very good idea, especially for Romney:
The Romney camp signaled it was tired of the debates. But in the Florida debates the Romney camp largely destroyed Gingrich before winning Florida. In the Mesa, AZ debate on CNN the Romney camp ruined Rick Santorum before winning Arizona and barely Michigan.
Both times the Romney campaign used good debate performances to rebound lagging poll numbers into real momentum. Then he decided to stop debating. Out of sight and out of mind, conservatives forgot why they thought he was the guy who could beat Obama.
Both of the those debates also highlighted horrible performances. In Arizona, Santorum showed himself as a Senator, not a President. In Jacksonville, Gingrich showed himself unwilling to fight back; rare for him, and deadly for his campaign.
Gingrich sits at a multi-pronged cross roads. He didn't win in the deep South like he should have, but he beat Romney in both states. He has 1/3rd the delegates of Romney, but the talk of a Gingrich/Perry ticket could revitalize Tea Party supporters (of course, predicated on him lasting to the convention and getting past the first ballot, which is his entire plan!) To have a chance at his plan, regardless of the probability of success, Gingrich needs a debate.
We, The People, need one more debate. So, let's have one! The Debate To End All Debates! Hosted and moderated by conservatives. Get the candidates up there and lets not waste time with gotcha questions about contraceptives, the candidates’ private lives or their religions (which, of course, means Charles Blow won't be watching,) but about concrete plans for increasing domestically-produced energy and lowering gas prices. Let's get in a few questions in about Operation Fast and Furious, and a full segment dedicated to Constitutional government - what it means, where we fall short, and how we get back to it.
One more debate. Winner takes all.