Any element of surprise in the Republican primaries is gone. In fact, the big news would have been if Mitt Romney hadn't won Tuesday's contests in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware and New York. But with Rick Santorum out of the race and at this point facing only token competition from Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, Romney won all five states.
Romney's sweep still leaves him short of the 1,141 delegates needed to clinch the nomination, but with his chances of hitting the magic number a foregone conclusion, he's already settling into his place as the presumptive nominee. On Tuesday night he gave a speech to raucous supporters in the swing state of New Hampshire, entitled "A Better America Begins Tonight," from a decidedly general-election state of mind.
"When it comes to the character of America, President Obama and I have very different visions. Government is at the center of his vision. It dispenses the benefits, borrows what it can't take, consumes a greater and greater share of the economy. With Obamacare fully installed, government will have control of almost half of the economy, and we would have effectively ceased to be a free enterprise society," Romney said early in his remarks. "We've already seen where that path leads. It erodes freedom, it deadens the entrepreneurial spirit. And it hurts the very people it's supposed to help. Those who promise to spread the wealth around only exceed in spreading poverty around."
With his dystopian characterization of America under President Obama all lined up, Romney followed up with his philosophy based on strong companies' trickling down employment to more Americans.
"Because there are so many enterprises that are succeeding [in my vision], the competition for hardworking, educated, skilled employees is intense. So wages and salaries rise," he said. "I see an America with a growing middle class with rising standards of living. I see children even more successful than their parents, some successful even beyond their wildest dreams. And others congratulating them for their achievement, not attacking them for it."
Romney didn't go into the details of his policies, leaving his support for the Paul Ryan budget, his desire to let the housing market "hit the bottom" and his views on corporate personhood for another day. Instead he seized the moment as an opportunity to share his understanding of his philosophical differences with the president. Though it may be another month before the nomination is officially sealed, the general election has clearly begun.
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's senior political correspondent.