The Republican nomination and the presidency are now Mitt Romney's to lose. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum pulling out of the primary race on Tuesday removed the last major speed bump slowing down Mr. Romney's quest to be his party's standard-bearer. That doesn't mean the road to the White House will be fast or easy. Mr. Romney and the GOP both need to fine-tune their campaign machines if they are to finish ahead of President Obama in November.
Party unity is one area where there is room for improvement. Mr. Santorum was less than graceful when he bowed out of the race this week. In his speech announcing the suspension of his campaign, he didn't even mention Mr. Romney, let alone emphasize how important it is for the party faithful to unify behind their inevitable nominee. Part of this slight might have been playing to his supporters, who were the last holdouts desperate to get behind "anybody but Romney," but most of it was just being a sore loser.
As Toby Harnden pointed out in London's Daily Mail, "Santorum emphasized how important it was 'that we win the House back and that we take the United States Senate,' omitting the number one aspiration of Republicans across America - taking back the White House from Obama." Other than Mr. Santorum's obvious factual error (Republicans already have a sizable majority in the House of Representatives), his main mistake was to once again put his sour grapes on full display by not making it clear that he believes it would be better for Mr. Romney to be president than Mr. Obama. Clarifying that point is necessary since it was only three weeks ago that the Pennsylvanian said, "If you're going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have."
Mr. Santorum's poor sportsmanship echoes lingering hesitation among some conservatives that Mr. Romney is the best candidate to take on the Democrats, but in general, the former Massachusetts governor has been heading in the right direction for months and has won major endorsements from rock-solid conservatives ranging from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey and Ambassador John Bolton to businessman Donald Trump and rock 'n' roll star/gun-rights hero Ted Nugent. Going forward, Mr. Romney can shore up the base by not backing off of important ideological fights. Of course, the elephants' biggest test between now and the Tampa convention in August is vetting an unequivocal conservative who will be an asset on the stump to be his running mate.
The main factor in this election ignored by the liberal media is that Republicans really have to screw up in a big way for Mr. Obama to get re-elected. According to Rasmussen Reports, 51 percent of voters disapprove of the president's job performance. By just about every conceivable metric, Americans are worse off now than they were four years ago. Millions are out of work, taxes are rising, gas prices are high, debt is at record levels and government deficit spending continues to grow wildly. Republicans finally have one leading candidate to take it to Mr. Obama and his record. It's now up to Mr. Romney to stick it in high gear and get his engine firing on all cylinders for the long haul to the checkered flag.
Brett M. Decker is editorial page editor of The Washington Times. He is coauthor of the new book "Bowing to Beijing" (Regnery, 2011).
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