After last night’s primary was over, and the speeches were given by Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, I was reminded of a similar night that occurred almost 4 years ago. On May 6th of 2008 Tim Russert famously said ‘We Now Know Who the Democratic Nominee will be.” Of course, Hillary Clinton stayed on and didn’t officially end her campaign until a month later, but at that point it was mostly about ego, trying to fundraise her way out of debt and placating her supporters.
The point is (as Russert implied) sometimes everyone else knows it’s over except for the candidate.
Florida’s Republican primary was that night. The campaign is over for Paul, Gingrich and Santorum, and now we will simply wait for them to publicly acknowledge it. How do we know the campaign is over? There are 3 big reasons:
Candidates are starting to Slip out the Back Door
When you win an important primary in the race for your party’s nomination you stand on stage, pontificate for awhile, galvanize your troops, talk to the press then gather up and move on to the next day. If a candidate doesn’t even bother to show up to a primary state, or even worse is flying off to the next state before the second meatball tray has been brought out at the Holiday Inn “Victory Party,” then you know the campaign is just about over.
That is exactly what we saw on Tuesday night’s Florida primary when both Ron Paul and Rick Santorum spent the day campaigning in Nevada, this weekend’s primary contest. Ron Paul continued his increasingly hollow explanations for his poor showing during this GOP primary season, attempting to rally his troops by explaining how he was third in the delegate count. The reality is that Ron Paul is the only candidate left in the GOP race who has failed to win a primary or a caucus thus far. He came in a distant 4th in the GOP primary in Florida and to make matters worse according to CNN exit polls he even lost to Mitt Romney amongst 18 – 29 year old voters (41% to 25% respectively), his supposed political base.
Santorum also spoke from the distant safety of Nevada instead of being in Florida, giving his best Marvin’s Room cover by claiming that the Republicans can do better, and that all of this mudslinging was hurting the eventual nominee’s chances. That doesn’t sound like someone who is planning on spending the next few months grinding it out in caucuses. At least Newt Gingrich bothered to stay in Florida and take his drubbing like a man – then again, he only proved the second reason why this primary season is over.
Candidates Start Saying They’re In for the Long Haul
Unlike sports movies, action films or marriages, in politics when someone shouts out “It’s not over yet” that means it just about is. Like Howard Dean’s rebel yell after the 2004 Iowa Caucuses where he pledged to keep on fighting, or after the South Carolina Primary in 2000 when John McCain talked about losing battles but winning the war, candidates who know that the primary is just about over begin to talk more and more about the future. This has at least two short term campaign benefits. The first is that this mollifies your supporters who need a reason to keep knocking on doors and putting up signs, but it also may give donors pause before putting their wallets firmly back into their pockets.
Following in the footsteps of previous failed nomination bids last night Newt Gingrich made it a point to talk about the fact that there are 46 more states to go in this primary and he will be in all of them. Well, make that 44 states since he’s failed to qualify for the ballot in Missouri and Virginia.
The truth is that Newt Gingrich knows that his last best hope to prove his viability as a GOP nominee was to win a diverse state like Florida and he failed. Gingrich has neither the organization nor the money to compete in a series of upcoming primaries and caucuses where he’d have to crisscross the country and he is only fooling himself and his followers to pretend otherwise. Speaking of foolish self-delusion, the last sign that a primary is coming to an end was made abundantly clear by Mitt Romney on Monday.
The Front Runner Changes Focus – For the Last Time
In Mitt Romney’s victory speech on Tuesday night he spent just about every second of his talk discussing Barack Obama. Newt Gingrich, a name he couldn’t get off his lips for the last 8 days has finally receded into his campaign memory as the race has officially ended. Romney spoke of how he’d end the Obama Era, he his presidency would turn HOPE into a real job and success rather than an empty promise, and he pretty much bought out his whole campaign speech like it was October 31st instead of January 31st. Mitt Romney has thoroughly beaten Newt Gingrich, solidified his position as front runner and no longer needs to kick the bee hive known as Newt to win this nomination. In fact, if he goes back to attacking Newt he’d look weak, when his real opponent is Barack Obama. I’m pretty sure Romney’s campaign staff told him that singing America the Beautiful was the perfect way to counter-act Obama’s soulful rendition of Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together. It didn’t work, but at least it shows that he’s moved on from the primary and is ready for the real game.
The press and pundits like myself have an incentive to pretend that this campaign still has some life in it, but that’s just wishful thinking. Candidates are skipping out, waxing philosophical about the future and aiming squarely for the incumbent.
In other words: game over.
We now all have to sit still for what amounts to 8 months of shadow boxing before Obama and Romney actually engage each other in a debate. In the mean time we can enjoy what’s left of this non-contest until Super Tuesday.
This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com.