Sometimes, winning isn't so much about good news as it is about avoiding terrible news. Mitt Romney qualifies as a winner for dodging a bullet in Michigan. The headline that said it best was in the Los Angeles Times: "Mitt Romney Averts Disaster in Michigan Primary." If he was saving others, it would make him Superman. Since he's merely saving himself from his own gaffes, he's Mr. Bean.
But Romney comes out of Michigan running like a brand, shiny new ... Edsel. He's the GOP frontrunner who looks like a lemon. For one thing, he didn't get much of an advantage in delegates. The narrowness of the victory has highlighted the lack of the party faithful's enthusiasm for him. As one Republican observer put it, "Romney is a fragile front-runner."
And he's still giving conservatives cause for pause. Romney declared that he was not willing to light his hair on fire to please the GOP base, at once disappointing political junkies by depriving them of a sight it hadn't occurred to them to wish to see, and displeasing Rush Limbaugh who will now demand a bonfire.
In Washington state, the clear winner is the state GOP and party head Kirby Wilbur, who also conjured up a vision we'd never thought of. This week's Republican caucuses finally, for once, actually matter, even though they're a straw poll that selects delegates who may or may not wind up picking other delegates to support the "winner."
Still, they matter enough that candidate Ron Paul's people are in full-blown paranoia mode about the party trying to steal delegates away. But such in-fighting is a sign of success, of being a player in 2012. Said Wilbur: 'I'm reveling in the attention. We're no longer the ugly stepsister that doesn’t get invited to the dance. We've become the princess for the week."
So which would you rather see? Mitt's hair on fire, or Kirby in a prom dress and tiara?
Of course, the fact that the Washington GOP caucuses matter just makes Rob McKenna's decision not to endorse in the presidential race look just like an act of political wussery. Politically, an endorsement could matter simply by reminding independent voters that Rob is a Republican. On the other hand, shouldn't one endorse because it does matter? McKenna's non-endorsement strategy makes him one of the week's losers.
Other winners and losers of the week:
Winner: Jeb Bush, who despite an insistence that he's not running this time out has managed to use GOP haplessness to his advantage by many people actually pine for yet another Bush administration. No one has played sitting out better.
Loser: Moderate Republicans, the dodo birds of American politics, who lost one of their own when Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe decided not to sun for re-election. Her rationale: things are polarized in Washington, DC and nothing is going to get done by people in the "center," whatever that is. Her withdrawal ought to remind progressives of why swing votes are valuable: she was a key in getting health care reform passed, Don't Ask Don't Tell repealed, and supporting Dodd-Frank.
Winner: Chris Gregoire, who, with eyes on life after Olympia, gave a great audition for Secretary of the Interior, promoting tourism in our National Parks even after eliminating Washington state's own tourism office.
Loser: Rick Santorum, who I praised last week for being slammed for his political realism, and who then veered off message, returning to his old nutty self to say that President Kennedy made him want to throw up, and bizarrely claiming that Obama is a snob for wanting kids to go to college where they'll just be indoctrinated by lefty professors anyhow. Yes, like those commies at Oral Roberts University!
Winner: Ron Sims, whose editorial defending higher education from more budget cuts beautifully laid out the problems in this state and clearly positioned himself not only as the anti-Santorum, but someone who has the higher-ed conscious of, say, a Rob McKenna.
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