When News Corporation Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch tweeted about Rick Santorum a couple of weeks ago – (yes, Mr. Murdoch is now a Twitter guy) – he put it plainly about the stakes for the former Pennsylvania senator in Tuesday’s crucial Michigan primary: “Win Michigan, game over.”
That view has focused the political world on Tuesday’s contest in Michigan -- although to be fair there is also a primary contest today in Arizona, too.
Let us look ahead and examine where the GOP race goes after today, then we'll look at what might happen inside the Republican Party if Romney loses and finally, I'll offer up some predictions about the Michigan race.
First, where does the race for the nomination go after the Michigan and Arizona primaries?
• If Mitt Romney hangs on and wins Michigan, he will continue on, as does Santorum – into next week’s Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses. But even with a win in his home state, Romney has already become a much-diminished political figure.
• His political tin ear, verbal gaffes, flip-flops and perpetual pandering have damaged him among the crucial 40% of American voters who call themselves "independents." Among these swing voters, Romney has an almost-two-to-one negative rating.
• GOP voters – after 6 years of almost-constant campaigning – have not connected with Romney; clearly that is not going to change.
• He is – simply stated – a weak political candidate.
• But, if he hangs on Tuesday night, he will soldier on with the GOP establishment (shakily) still in his corner and his financial backers still writing checks to him (even though more and more of them have expressed private doubt about his political viability.)
• Super Tuesday is on March 6. Ohio is the most crucial of the ten states that have either primaries or caucuses next week – and Santorum is ahead in the Buckeye State, too.
So it's safe to conclude that next week Romney may not have a great Tuesday, either.
• But – for now – tonight is the ball game.
OK, what if Romney loses tonight?
As Carole King wrote and sang, “I feel the Earth Move” will be the prevailing sentiment inside the GOP political world.
• If Mitt Romney cannot win the state he grew up in and where his father, George Romney, was a popular three-term governor, then he will be deemed - even by many of his own supporters and donors and bundlers -- a Political Loser.
• Panic will spread throughout the Republican establishment.
• Fear that a Republican presidential candidate will not only lose to President Obama in November (and frankly more and more Republicans have already privately concluded that) but fear that a weak Romney or a disastrous Santorum at the top of the ticket will doom Senate and House candidates, too.
• You will hear that the GOP establishment is begging a new candidate to jump in the race to “save the Party.”
• And there will be more talk of a brokered GOP convention in Tampa to come up with a “new candidate.”
• And, along with this, an independent third party candidate may emerge to run against both the GOP nominee and President Obama in November.
OK, what will happen today in Michigan?
Well, Romney should have won this primary going away after Santorum’s pathetic debate performance last week. But the Ford Field Fiasco, the “Anne drives two Cadillacs” statement, and the NASCAR double-screw-up – appearing in a photo next to a car sponsored by Santorum and stating, “Some of my best friends own NASCAR teams” – have made this race a virtual tie, with Santorum again having late momentum.
Thus, it will be so close – perhaps too close to know the outcome till very late tonight – and we may have a disputed outcome ala Iowa and Maine.
In the end, Romney is the net loser no matter how it ends up.
Look for more surprises in the weeks ahead.
Former Republican Congressman John LeBoutillier represented New York in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1981-83. He currently co-hosts "Campaign Confidential" with Doug Schoen and Pat Caddell – every Monday at 2 p.m. on FoxNews.com Live. Watch John, Doug and Pat cover the Michigan and Arizona primary results Tuesday night, February 28 starting at 8:45pm ET on FoxNews.com Live!
Former New York Republican Congressman John LeBoutillier is a Fox News contributor. He appears along with pollstersand fellow contributors Doug Schoen and Pat Caddell on "Political Insiders" which can be see Sunday afternoons on Fox News Channel and every Monday at 10:30 am ET on "FoxNews.com Live."