Romney Grinds Forward in Illinois

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Marching to victory! Photo: Justin Sullivan/2012 Getty Images

The Republican primary race has taken on the pattern of World War I, without the mindless slaughter of course. It began in unpredictable fashion, with great lurches back and forth, but has settled into an immutable slog. (Slog seems to be the most common description of the race, and also a term frequently applied to the Great War.) The ultimate victor has, by this point, become obvious to all sides. The only real question now is when he will win, and on what terms.

Mitt Romney wants to win in progressively stronger fashion, ending the competitive portion early, forcing his opponents from the race and beginning his general election as soon as he can. Rick Santorum surely knows he can’t win, but he has a chance to hold Romney short of an outright majority of delegates and force some kind of bargaining at the convention. (Santorum’s highest goal might be a place as Romney’s vice-president, a concession Romney would surely rather avoid.)

Each new vote matters primarily to the degree that it alters, however slightly, the trajectory of the race, bending it just a bit toward a Romney blowout or a Santorum stalemate. In Illinois, he appears to be running ahead of the trend, on pace for an apparent double-digit victory. Yet even a relatively smooth procession of Romney victories would still likely allow him to clinch the nomination only after the final primary, in Utah, in late June.

If that is the case, we are still closer to the beginning of the primaries than to the end. Truly this is a chilling thought.