Rick Santorum had a great night last night — he went three for three in primary and caucus contests, beating Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich handily and gaining a deluge of free media attention. Observers of these events are likely already clear on a few key points:
- Newt Gingrich wasn’t even on the ballot in Missouri, and Romney had close to zero organization and media effort there as well. Both campaigns have claimed that they didn’t even bother because the primary was “non-binding” (of course, Gingrich also failed to get on the ballot in the more important Virginia primary coming up, so take the previous statement with a grain of salt).
- The Romney camp is surely disappointed in the results of the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses, given that they made a greater effort to play to win in those states, and now they faced renewed charges that Romney is disliked by Republicans and won’t be able to rally their support against Barack Obama in November. But the spin since last night downplays the results of these contests as well, in part because they are “non-binding.”
So what do we make of today’s media framing of the Santorum wins? Well, what complicates matters is that, to awkwardly paraphrase Orwell, all non-binding contests are non-binding, but some are more non-binding than others.