Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

The real race is on between Romney and Obama

By Julian Zelizer, CNN Contributor
April 16, 2012 -- Updated 0133 GMT (0933 HKT)
Mitt Romney will likely face off against President Obama.
Mitt Romney will likely face off against President Obama.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rick Santorum announces he is suspending his presidential campaign
  • Julian Zelizer: Mitt Romney will likely be the GOP candidate
  • He says Romney ran a strong campaign and had money, plus his opponents were weak
  • Zelizer: Romney is more skilled as a politician than he is often given credit for

Editor's note: Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" (Times Books) and "Governing America" (Princeton University Press).

(CNN) -- Rick Santorum's announcement that he is suspending his presidential campaign brings the Republican primaries closer to the end. With all the speculation about brokered conventions and last-minute turnarounds, the original predictions appear to be correct. Mitt Romney will almost certainly be the Republican candidate who faces off against President Barack Obama in the fall.

The rebellion against Romney took on many forms since this primary season began. We saw the business conservative (Herman Cain), the ideological and slash-and-burn conservative (Newt Gingrich), the libertarian (Ron Paul), the movement conservatives (Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann) all try to win the hearts and minds of Republican voters by claiming that they were better suited to this role than Romney.

Julian Zelizer
Julian Zelizer

But in the end Romney wins. We can learn a number of lessons from this outcome. The first is that organization and money do matter. Despite all the interest in surprise victories by his opponents in places like Iowa and South Carolina, the fact that Romney was able to put together such an extensive organizational apparatus early in this campaign, and to raise huge amounts of money to conduct his advertising, made him extraordinarily difficult to beat in several key states. Retail politics could only take his opponents so far.

The second lesson is that Romney is more skilled as a politician than he is often given credit for and his opponents were never as strong as they were made to appear by the media. Romney proved that he had some of the survival skills needed to last through the turbulent ups and downs of the primary process. He was successful in the debates and responded well to the inevitable gaffes and misstatements that were made over these months.

Santorum to 'help' Romney

His insistence on sticking to economic issues, with some diversions to counteract Santorum, reflected an awareness of his own strengths and a resistance to remaking himself in the middle of this contest. He is disciplined on the campaign trail.

Santorum: The 'race for us is over'

Nor were his opponents very strong. Gingrich was a flawed candidate from the start, loaded with baggage from his political career and a well-known tendency to speak what is on his mind regardless of the political costs.

Santorum out, clearing path for Romney

Santorum, too, brought to the campaign his long record in Washington and a weak organizational infrastructure that did not serve him well. Others, like Herman Cain, quickly burned out when under the national spotlight.

Focus shifts to Romney-Obama showdown

Finally, we learned that the anger about President Obama and the frustration over the current course of the economy is greater than any internal debates that exist in the GOP.

While Santorum often did excite many of voters in the primaries and caucuses, he never could close the deal in terms of convincing them that he had a better chance to defeat Obama than did Romney. When faced with a choice between four more years of Obama or a middle-of-the-road Romney, it seems that Republicans prefer Romney.

So now the real race is on.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Julian Zelizer.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT