Is Mitt Mortally Wounded?

Last election season, Mitt Romney won the Michigan primary by a solid 9.2 percent over McCain. Flash forward to now. In the old GOP, the native son who was the national runner-up in 2008 should surely be able to wrap up Michigan by at least his margin last time around. Yet I suspect that tonight – after a day of thorough reporting and deep thought from the Starbucks here in Plymouth, Michigan – Romney is going to lose to Santorum, the most extreme theocon on the ballot. More important, Romney is fast losing what little love he had from the base:

Only 38 percent of “very conservative” Americans now express favorable views of the former Massachusetts governor. That’s his lowest mark of the campaign among staunch conservatives – a group he’s also struggled with in previous contests – and down 16 percentage points over the past two weeks…

Switching focus to conservative Republicans and independents – including the “somewhat conservative,” Romney’s recent slippage is evident among both men and women and among those with college degree and those without. Among men, nearly as many conservatives now express unfavorable views as favorable ones of Romney. Only a week ago he was about 2 to 1 positive.

My italics. Here's one reason why. This morning Romney said, "It's very easy to excite the base with incendiary comments… I'm not willing to light my hair on fire to try and get support." Jim Antle notes

Without trying to read too much into a single quote, this is a good example of why Romney is having trouble gaining (or at least keeping) traction: many Republican voters feel that Romney has a low opinion of their intelligence, that he thinks the base is dumb, that he believes conservative rhetoric is just boob bait for the bubbas. This perception is why a critical mass of conservatives don't trust Romney and are reluctant to support him.

I suspect Romney may have lost this campaign in the past two weeks. The GOP's far right anti-bodies have rejected the transplant, and haven't yet figured out how toxic Santorum is to the wider public. And the candidate's simply unbelievable foot-in-mouth disease must also have unnerved those simply interested in, you know, winning. He makes John Kerry look like a pro. For once, campaign spin is onto something. In many ways, Romney has already lost Michigan – unless he pulls out a surprise strong victory tonight.