The heart trumps the head

    To: Mitt RomneyFrom: Dixie RepublicansMessage: Yeah, you have the best shot at beating Obama, but so what. We’re just not that into you.Last night, in Alabama and Mississippi, it was a choice between the head and the heart. Voters chose the latter. They favored purity over electability, and that’s basically why Mitt remains stuck with the prospect of a long, debilitating trudge toward Tampa.The stats said it all about the mood of the conservative base. In the Alabama exit polls, a 46 percent plurality said that Romney was the candidate most likely to take out Obama; a whopping 66 percent of those Alabamans cast ballots for Romney. Yet Romney finished third in the actual vote totals.In the Mississippi exit polls, virtually half the electorate said that Romney was the candidate most likely to take out Obama; six in 10 of those Mississippians cast ballots for Romney. Yet, again, he finished third in the actual vote totals.On electability, Romney routed Rick Santorum. Yet Santorum won both primaries. What this tells us (not for the first time) is that despite all of Romney’s strenuous efforts to lurch rightward (yesterday he said, “Planned Parenthood – we’re going to get rid of that”), the base refuses to believe him. They think he’s a “squish” (they’re probably right), and that Santorum is the real deal, a right-wing true believer who would make them feel good as he goes down in flames in November.Sure, Romney still did OK last night in the delegate count; thanks again to proportional allocation, his twin third-place finishes will yield enough new delegates to keep him comfortably in the lead. His aides point out that he still has “the math” on his side, although it’s hardly inspiring to be known as the Math Candidate.Romney was also hurt last night by the failure of Newt Gingrich. What Romney needed, at minimum, was for Newt to finish on top in one of those Dixie states; that way, Newt would still have a claim on the conservative anybody-but-Mitt bloc. If Romney can’t win the conservative base, then the next best alternative is to have Newt and Santorum cancel each other out by dividing up the base. The worst scenario for Romney is a Newt fadeaway, with Santorum becoming the not-Mitt alternative.Well, guess what: Last night, Romney got his worst scenario.By topping Newt among base voters in what was supposed to be Newt’s Dixie stronghold, Santorum gets what he has wanted all along: a one-on-one mano a mano with Romney. Newt can stay in the race if he wants to (and he certainly wants to, his outsize ego offers him no other choice), picking up a few delegates here and there, but he’s a lot like the rusted ’88 Mercury Sable you might see in the corner of a used car lot. The car still runs, but nobody is buying.Last week, a Newt flak said that the lobbyist-historian had to win Alabama and Mississippi in order to remain viable. Last night, a smiling Newt daughter said that the two losses didn’t matter, because Dad is actually “driving the national conservation.” Whatever. At some point, voters stop listening and even casino mogul Sheldon Adelson might stop throwing good money after bad.But even though Newt is no more alive than oblivious Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense, he clearly wants to hang around in the hopes of becoming a power broker at a contested Republican convention. A Newt adviser even told CNN last night that the boss envisions a brokered Santorum-Gingrich ticket; in his words, “Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum would be a powerful team against Barack Obama.” I’m trying to keep a straight face.Anyway, a contested confab would be another worst-case Romney scenario; on Fox News this week, he warned that if the GOP went that way, “we would be signaling our doom in terms of replacing President Obama. That will not happen.”Probably not. But if the Math Candidate somehow staggers across the delegate finish line with the conservative base still on the outs, if he finds himself dogged at every turn by Santorum, and if he remains alienated from the right-wingers who would rather vote their hearts than listen to their heads, the party will face a long, hot summer.But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, folks. First we must respect the slog. Illinois votes next Tuesday, and Mitt will surely be pumped! “I love birds. I especially love the northern Cardinal, your state bird. Its redness is the right color. And gosh, I love those Chicago Cubbies. And I love that song – how does it go, let me sing it – ‘My kind of town, Chicago is.’ And I love that deep dish pizza, yum. I have friends who own pizza chains…”——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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