For months, the conservative and Tea Party members had been united only in opposition to Mitt Romney, with their positive support divided among several candidates: Gingrich, Herman Cain, Santorum, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and the indomnitable Ron Paul.
Since at least February it was apparent that having both Gingrich and Santorum in the race would divide the conservative base and likely ensure a Romney victory. Yesterday, that electoral calculus shifted radically. Now, Newt Gingrich gets his one-on-one fight with Romney, a battle that will soon decisively prove Romneyy to be the undoubted party nominee, or a mortally wounded, proven-vulnerable frontrunner deemed certain to lose to Barack Obama in November.
In several states, Santorum will still appear on the ballot in those primaries. Santorum thus threatens to take votes away from Gingrich (assuming Ron Paul is and remains a single-digit nonentity, notwithstanding the ferocity of his young supporters). However, if Gingrich is the last best hope of stopping Romney -- even if this conclusion comes by default and the process of elimination -- this view requires voters to recognize and accept the fact that they are voting against Romney and not voting for any particular candidate. That objective requires that the conservative and Tea Party wings of the Republican Party vote strategically and not emotionally, and a strategic vote means voting for the candidate you think actually can stop Romney during primary season...and Obama in the general election.
For the Tea Party, a vote for Santorum is not just a wasted vote. It is a vote for Romney.
Eric Dixon is a New York election lawyer, strategic analyst and member of the board of directors of a financial think tank, the Financial Policy Council.