So how bad is it for the eventual Republican nominee?
Well, first, on Super Tuesday, receiving more votes than any Republican that day was President Obama, who ran unopposed.
You read that right.
It seems likely, particularly given his favorite son status in Illinois, that Obama will outpoll the Republicans on a combined basis today.
Worse news for the putative nominee, Mitt Romney, Obama now outpolls him by 8 percent in the erstwhile battleground state of Virginia. Romney won Virginia an overwhelming majority, with 60% of the vote, against a field that did not include either Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich, both of whom blundered in filing for the primary.
And once more, Romney finds himself in a "must-win" situation, although if you think about it, he already has won and it's pretty silly to entertain notions beyond that: his closest rival, Santorum, filed late enough and sloppily enough that he's been penalized ten delegates that he cannot win.
Still, much of the elective process is a matter of perception and if Romney can't pull off a big win today-- he has a 14% lead in this very convuluted primary process, which is a two-stage vote: one for the candidate in a "beauty pageant," the other directly for the delegates who represent the candidates. Nothing like confusing the old white folks if you want suspense-- it will only add to the perception that Romney lacks the instincts to deliver the killer blow, something that is evident in his flip-flopping on issues.
No, really, think about it: a man who wants to be all things to all people, a necessary concern for a candidate from a party as fractured and contentitious as the GOP, won't have the stones to do what he thinks is right. And while it may be unfair to characterize this as Romney's problem when in truth it's a problem the party faces, Romney is the presumptive face of the party, and when nominated, he becomes the head of that party until he gets mashed into the ground in November.
It's weird to think of the Republican party as the messy one, but there it is. Usually, it's Democrats who are fractious and contentious and all over each other like ants in a war with other ants, and the GOP the party of jack-booted unity, but that dynamic seems to be reversed this cycle. Republicans have at least three identifiable factions, none of which agrees completely with the other two, and all three are scrambling to get a piece of the party.
Meanwhile, Democrats are the party with the luxury of not only having an orderly process, but have time and resources to spare to muck up the other guys' fun.
It literally took the Democrats twelve years to overcome their self-imposed foot-shooting (from the 1980 primaries of Carter and Kennedy to the eked win of Bill Clinton in 1992), and the Republicans haven't even gotten to the starting gate of theirs.
Again proving my theory that the GOP runs about 30 years behind the Democrats in evolution.