Ross Douthat points to three features of the Romney campaign that have slowed down victory … but I’d suggest his goalposts are moving comment might be the best idea: what is happening is that the media doesn’t want that campaign to end. So they are moving the goalposts to prolong the story.
Mitt Romney has good reason to be exasperated with the way his slow progress to the Republican nomination has been covered in the press. Again and again, he’s won supposedly-decisive primary victories, only to have the press turn around and insist that actually, it’s the next big primary that is the crucial one, the make-or-break moment, the contest that could throw the whole race into chaos. First Florida was going to be decisive, then Michigan, then Ohio. Romney won all three, but the goal posts kept moving, and suddenly it was Illinois that threatened to cast his nomination into doubt.
Naturally, Romney won Illinois as well, cruising to a predictable victory on Tuesday. And for all the talk about how badly his campaign has been run, his partisans can credibly argue that he’s suffered more from the extended primary calendar and the press’s addiction to drama than from his own mistakes. As the Weekly Standard’s Jay Cost pointed out this week, if you compare results primary by primary, Romney is actually running “a pretty solid 4-6 percent” ahead of John McCain’s 2008 campaign — “not the sign of a particularly dominant front-runner,” Cost allows, “but also not the sign of a uniquely weak one, either.”
Still, no one doubts that the Romney team would have preferred to shorten the campaign and win the nomination sweepingly and graciously rather than gradually and with a bludgeon. The long grind has been hard on Romney’s campaign war chest, his general-election narrative and his favorability ratings. Even though the press has sometimes overhyped its weaknesses, his campaign did miss several opportunities to silence the doubters and put the race away earlier.