Highlights from Romney's Obama-bashing speech:
John Dickerson says Mitt's powers of inevitability have been restored:
Romney emerges a stronger candidate. He certainly showed he was willing to do what it takes, for those voters who might worry about whether he was tough enough to go up against Obama. The terrain is now very favorable as Romney heads into contests in Nevada, Michigan, Colorado, and Minnesota. He won all four of those in 2008. The next contest where Gingrich might have a good chance is almost a month from now, on Super Tuesday. There is only one debate in that stretch.
Jonathan Bernstein calls the race:
At this point, Romney essentially has the nomination wrapped up. Yes, people will point out that only a very small portion of delegates has been selected, but most of these contests are usually long over when the winner finally hits the mark that technically clinches it. Realistically, only some sort of external and utterly unexpected event could derail Romney now.
Douthat agrees that it's over:
There’s nobody waiting in the wings to help [Gingrich], no endorsement or donation that can change the fundamentals of the race. If he keeps going now – and there’s every reason to think he will – he’ll be pinning his hopes on a deus ex machina. Every realistic path leads only to defeat.
Josh Marshall wonders if Gingrich can keep going:
He has to hang on until Super Tuesday and the week following Super Tuesday to really strike some damage against Romney — again, assuming people still remember he’s in it. On Super Tuesday, March 6th, you have Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Virginia. He didn’t get on the ballot in Virginia. And Georgia’s his home state. So that will be discounted to a significant degree. The the following week on March 13th, you have Alabama and Mississippi, which should again be good opportunities for Newt. The question is can he stay in and even more importantly, keep the polarizing of the GOP still humming for six weeks?
Frum believes that Newt has no path to the nomination:
The GOP nominating process now routes through caucus states, starting with Nevada. Gingrich complained in Florida that he under-performed in the final debate because Romney packed the hall. Guess what you do at a caucus? Gingrich may have his delusions of grandeur, but he has been a working politician for a long time. He can see the road ahead—and he can see where it leads, and how very quickly it leads there.
Doug Mataconis questions how long Newt's moneyman will stick around:
Gingrich’s entire campaign seems dependent on the assistance of the pro-Gingrich SuperPAC which is in turn funded almost entirely by Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson. What happens to Gingrich if Adelson suddenly decides to stop stroking those $5,000,000 checks he apparently wrote in January? Gingrich apparently raised $10 million in the last quarter and $5 million in January of this year, which is nothing to sneeze at, but Romney raised $24 million in the 4th Quarter and ended 2011 with $19 million cash-on-hand. At the same time, the Pro-Romney SuperPAC Restore Our Future had $23.6 million in the bank at the start of 2012. If Adelson pulls the rug out from under Gingrich, which he will do at some point one must think, then it’s over for Newt regardless of how many states are left to go.
John Ellis suspects that the media will stop covering the race and effectively end Newt's candidacy:
Presidential candidates survive on the oxygen of media coverage. It's what keeps them going, enables them to keep raising money. Once the coverage is withdrawn, it's only a matter of time before their candidacies expire. Out of sight, out of mind, out of money.
Peter Beinart thanks Romney for beating Gingrich:
It’s too early to tell if Romney will prove a strong general-election candidate. He’s a hard guy to identify with, not only because of his wealth but because in our deeply religious country, candidates who try to keep their faith private (think Michael Dukakis) often struggle to connect emotionally with voters. His core convictions, if he has any, remain obscure. But the past few weeks have shown what the real-world Republican alternative to Romney is. And even liberals owe Romney a debt of gratitude for saving us from it.
Ed Kilgore thinks the Gingrich campaign is undead:
Over at TNR, I have a column up making the case that Newt is a "zombie candidate" who is basically wasting his and everybody else’s time. But I have no idea if this sort of logic will be compelling to Gingrich, a man who sees Winston Churchill in the bathroom mirror each morning, or to his key backers. And there is certainly an argument to be made that in an electoral cycle as strange as this one has already been, nobody can be blamed for sticking around and seeing if something else weird is just around the corner.
Chait, who assumes the nomination race is over, assesses the damage done to Mitt:
Romney took on water that he won’t easily be able to bail out. He wanted to run as a pragmatic businessman looking out for the middle class, but he enters the general election painted, not unfairly, as a very rich man looking to preserve the policies that have benefitted him, often unfairly. The best tool we have to measure a candidate is his favorability rating, and the end result for Romney has been awful.
Sabato, Kondik and Skelley believe that Newt can continue to cause Mitt major headaches:
When it’s all said and done, we believe that Romney will be giving the acceptance address in Tampa come late August. But it matters enormously whether he wins pretty or limps home ugly. A much tougher opponent remains for Romney when the harvest moon shines.
P.M. Carpenter makes the same point:
Romney's the nominee, he's always been the nominee, he shall be the nominee. Romney isn't the story. Gingrich and his accompanying carnage are.
David Corn explains how a drawn-out campaign could hurt Mitt:
Romney still has to ensure that Gingrich does not run away with the hearts of GOP voters. Consequently, he has to keep the meanness/Obama-hatred gap that exists between him and the formerFreddie Mac historian/consultant/strategic adviser from becoming too wide. Yet doing so makes Romney less acceptable to those fickle independent voters who yearn for candidates who can solve problems in Washington without partisan fighting. If Romney has to engage in such Newt-neutralization for weeks, if not months, he will further define himself in a manner likely to alienate independents and middle-of-the-road voters.
Ed Morrissey admits that Romney is the overwhelming favorite, but he isn't ready to declare Mitt the winner:
In order for the other Republicans to catch up now, they will need a big stumble from Romney. Their strategy going into the caucus-heavy month of February will be to score one or two wins as a way to change the narrative, not only in relation to Romney but in relation to each other. Gingrich demanded that Santorum pull out of the race yesterday, and Santorum began running ads in Nevada and Colorado that targeted Gingrich rather than Romney. Both of them want to be the consolidation candidate, and neither can while the other won’t quit — and that helps Romney, too, who has plenty of money to fight both simultaneously when needed.
Bill Kristol won't give up on Santorum:
Could we be heading towards a Romney-Santorum contest on February 28 in Michigan and Arizona, and then in March and beyond? Romney would certainly be a strong favorite in such a contest, given his lead in votes, delegates, money and organization. But wouldn't Santorum ultimately have a better chance than Gingrich to upset Romney, even if it's still a slim one?
Weigel points out that Mitt still has an evangelical problem:
Romney still isn't winning evangelical voters. In South Carolina, 64 percent of voters called themselves "evangelical" or "born again." Gingrich won 45 percent of them, building his lead, and Romney only got 21 percent of them, tying with Rick Santorum. On to Florida, where only 40 percent of voters identified as evangelicals. Romney lost them — 38 to 36 — but it just didn't matter. He's still got to sweat the states where it does matter. In Alabama, for example, one of the Super Tuesday states that Gingrich will try to win, 68 percent of 2008 voters called themselves evangelicals. Without reading each and every mind making this decision, we can infer just a little queasiness about Mormonism.
And Byron York sees a major problem with the Romney campaign:
Romney's message remains the weakest part of his candidacy. And that means, despite his skill with attack ads and in debate, his campaign could still face substantial obstacles. "At bottom the Newt insurgency is fueled by the sense that Mr. Romney's tepid policy agenda reflects no fixed beliefs," the Wall Street Journal editorial page's William McGurn wrote Tuesday. "In fact, it's telling that Mr. Romney's GOP rivals are defined as non-Romneys, each standing for something lacking in the front-runner."
That "something lacking" problem has not been fixed.