"Remember all the pundits who warned that the poisonous Republican presidential primary battles threatened to divide the GOP and seriously weaken their nominee?" asks Donald Lambro at The Washington Times. "They were wrong." Since Rick Santorum dropped out of the race, Republicans have rallied behind presumptive nominee Mitt Romney, even pushing him ahead of President Obama in some head-to-head polls. On the other hand, Romney has to deal with some potentially troublesome primary gaffes and a noted weakness among women and Hispanic voters apparently exacerbated by the bruising GOP grudge match. So, did Romney emerge a stronger candidate, or a weaker one?
Romney was tested, and he passed: The extended primary calendar the Republican National Committee put in place for this year's primary "didn't hurt us at all," Illinois GOP chairman Pat Brady tells Politico. "Even though the debates were painful, I saw Gov. Romney get better and better.... A lot of the issues that were raised during the primary I'd rather have raised in January than September."
"GOP activists happy with 2012 calendar"
The brutal primary leaves Mitt worse for the wear: The amount of money and effort it took to put away one rival after another will make "Romney's road to November much tougher," says David Graham at The Atlantic. His millions of dollars and thousands of hours of time "would have been more profitably spent attacking Obama." And the unexpectedly dogged challenge from Santorum, especially, forced Romney much further to the right than the electorate, especially on contraception and women's issues. "Watching from Chicago, the Obama re-election team must have been delighted."
"3 ways Rick Santorum hurt Mitt Romney's chance at the presidency"
Romney only got stronger by default: You can't deny that as soon as he wrapped up the nomination, "Romney slipped into a phone booth as Mr. Snooze and emerged as Superman," says Steve Kraske at The Kansas City Star. The GOP's "newfound enthusiasm" for Romney likely has little to do with him winning over conservatives, though, and everything to do with what he represents: "He's not Obama." That may be as good as love in a turn-out-the-base election.
"Romney closes the gap"
Tough primaries rarely harm the challenger: No, Romney has "proven himself a resilient and elastic political survivor," says Jon Meacham at TIME. He's probably "emerged with the usual quotient of primary damage, which is to say not all that much" — historically, all "truly lasting primary wounds" come from an inner-party challenge to the incumbent, not a harsh fight to be the challenger. Thanks to Santorum, voters may think of Romney as a "rich and secretive flip-flopper," but he's still standing tall — and Obama has one less effective weapon in his anti-Romney arsenal.
"What history tells us about Romney's chances"