Elsewhere tomorrow I’ll have an extensive analysis explaining why Newt Gingrich’s argument on delegate arithmetic doesn’t hold water. Here, though, just as pure math, not as advocacy, let me note that Mitt Romney’s message today that he won “more delegates” than anybody else last night (once he counts Samoa and Hawaii) is not really relevant.
For Romney to win the nomination, he needs to win 50% of all delegates. Right now he’s at about 53% of those awarded so far. But the key thing is, last night he didn’t win anywhere near 50%. Instead, he won just over a third of them. He needs to win something like 48% of all the remaining delegates to take the nomination. If he keeps winning less than that 48%, then it doesn’t matter if he earns a small plurality in a multi-man race; all that matters is that he is falling behind the pace he needs for a first-ballot convention victory.
By general agreement, if Romney doesn’t win on the first ballot, he’s almost assuredly toast, because he will be seen as such damaged goods (having blown every advantage) that the party would coalesce behind somebody else. Again, that’s just an assumption, not advocacy. But if the goal is a first ballot victory, then yesterday was a big setback, even after factoring in Samoa and Hawaii.
(By the way, the numbers above are approximate, for illustrative purposes. I know they aren’t precisely the numbers, but as the real numbers are a moving target anyway, I just went from memory of the summaries I’ve read earlier today.)