For all the wild turns and chaotic maneuverings of the GOP primary, the race is coming to a predictable, even orderly, conclusion.
The competitive portion of the Republican presidential contest is functionally over. More states will vote, awarding more delegates, but Mitt Romney’s delegate lead is insurmountable, under realistic circumstances.
The party and its elders are falling into line. And Romney’s principal challenger, Rick Santorum, is acknowledging an important reality on the calendar: a loss in his home state of Pennsylvania, now just three shorts weeks away, would leave him without an argument for carrying on.
Even before that, a Romney win Tuesday in Wisconsin would put an exclamation point on a sentence that’s ending anyway. He’s set to pad his delegate lead yet again, as he rides into the week as the favorite in the Badger State, in addition to the other jurisdictions voting Tuesday, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
Today, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, a member of the GOP’s tea-party fueled Class of 2010, joined Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on the Romney bandwagon.
Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who’s pointedly remained neutral in the presidential primary, is now calling for Republicans to coalesce behind Romney, whom he said will make “an outstanding nominee.”
“I think the chances are overwhelming that he will be our nominee. It seems to me we’re in the final phases of wrapping up this nomination,” McConnell, R-Ky., said on CNN. “And most of the members of the Senate Republican conference are either supporting him, or they have the view that I do, that it’s time to turn our attention to the fall campaign and begin to make the case against the president of the United States.”
None of this suggests that Santorum or Newt Gingrich is poised to make the road to 1,144 convention delegates any easier for Romney.
Santorum today vowed to fight on, at least through the primary in his home state of Pennsylvania later this month. But in saying “we have to win Pennsylvania,” a possible ending is in sight for his candidacy. He also said today that he’ll “step aside” when Romney secures a majority of convention delegates.
Gingrich is pursuing a quirkier campaign that involves turning the Republican National Convention against Romney. He and Santorum both took inspiration from the University of Kansas basketball team, which overcame a hefty second-half deficit Saturday to reach the national championship game.
But Gingrich last week said something more telling. He said he had spoken recently with Romney and Santorum, and that “all three” agree that they’re reaching a stage in the race where they will be “focusing more and more attention on Obama.”
Romney couldn’t be happier with that development. His campaign is already reworking itself, in organization and messaging, for the general election matchup to come.
In the short term, Romney will continue to face the uncomfortable, if not unprecedented, prospect of facing rivals inside his party whose commitment has long been to bring about the implosion of the all-but-certain nominee.
But that noise is now beginning to fade away. Romney is capturing the Republican nomination the way it was available to be captured this year.
He won’t have much of a chance for a full reset, but he’s accomplished something that matters quite a bit in politics: He’s won when he’s needed to win.