ORLANDO, FLORIDA—"I think Florida did something very important coming on top of South Carolina," Newt Gingrich said last night after the results of his loss had already been confirmed. "It is now clear that this will be a two person race between the conservative leader Gingrich and the Massachusetts moderate."
This is Gingrich's new line of defense: Mitt Romney may win elections but he has yet to prove he can win a majority of Republican votes. Gingrich used a similar variation during his press briefing on Sunday, arguing that the combination of support for him and Santorum dwarfed Romney's polling lead. Once Santorum dropped out, Gingrich implied, he would gain the full backing of the true conservative vote, and any remaining messy details would be sorted out through a brokered convention.
The finals results bore out a different story. As expected, Romney won Florida by a wide margin. But it was such a wide margin that he did manage the feat that Gingrich had termed impossible less than 48 hours earlier. Romney collected 46.4 percent of the Florida vote. The combined Newt/Santorum ticket scraped by with 45.3 percent.
Gingrich's dream of a split convention in Tampa was already a product of his grandiose imagination. Fundraising, media expectations, the persistent problem of Ron Paul, and the technicalities of winner-take-all states make it extremely implausible that one candidate will fail to acquire the necessary 1,144 delegates by the end of the elections. That possibility moves close to nil when Romney manages to collect more than the aggregated total of his main challengers.