Why? Because there's no compelling reason for
But it's also a product of the individual circumstances of Romney's rivals.
Santorum is the most straightforward case. He's in second place in the delegate chase, and stands at least a theoretical chance of winning if Romney were somehow to collapse. But even more important, Santorum, 53, is the youngest of the four candidates; if he runs an impressive race and finishes second (or, as he put it on Tuesday, with "silver medals"), he would be a logical candidate for vice president this year — or president in 2016. "He'll go all the way to the convention," a Romney advisor predicted.
Paul is a little more complicated. The Texas congressman hasn't won a single primary — not even in Alaska, a libertarian hotbed. But he's running to promote a cause, not to win the nomination. He's the oldest candidate at 76, but he has an heir — Sen.
Then there's Gingrich, the most complicated of all. At 68, this is probably his one and only run for the presidency. And it's increasingly clear he doesn't have a shot. But of all the candidates, he's the one who appears to be enjoying himself the most. He's turned his campaign, with its eclectic lectures on energy policy and outer space, into a kind of performance art.
Gingrich says he's confident he can win the next few contests and that, in any case, he intends to stay in the race until the California primary June 5. And there's no reason he can't, as long as billionaire
Why? Posterity. Gingrich is unusually candid about comparing his career to those of
For all the candidates, staying in the race is a way to make sure they finish the contest with their reputations enhanced. And the most tangible prize they seek is a speaking role at the Republican convention.
You might wonder whether giving a speech on prime-time television is really all that crucial. But just askPatrick J. Buchanan, who ran for the GOP nomination in 1992 and 1996 and lost both times:
"You bet it is," Buchanan told me this week. "It's an opportunity, if people have been describing you in a way you don't think is right, to correct the picture. You can go down there and capture the country — unfiltered by the media. It is an unbelievable opportunity. It is an historic opportunity. Anybody who is offered it ought to grab it."
In 1992, Buchanan made a deal with the nominee, then-
This time, Buchanan noted, whoever wins the nomination faces a ticklish problem: He'll have three defeated challengers to appease — "and only one hour of prime time each night."
"I think Romney's going to win, but he really has to go to work as a diplomat to bring the alliance together," he said. "Magnanimity will go a long way."
But that's a problem that can wait until summer. For now, Romney still needs to endure another month — or three — of battles. He needs to worry about the polls that show that his conservative rivals' punches are convincing voters that he's a wealthy opportunist who's out of touch. He needs to close the deal, the sooner the better. Because the longer he's forced to compete with Santorum, Gingrich and Paul for votes from conservatives, the harder it may be for him to win votes from independents in the fall.