But that doesn't mean Operation Hilarity didn't have an impact on the race.
According to the exit polls, 9 percent of the electorate was Democratic, and of that, 53 percent voted for Santorum (just 18 percent for Romney). That means that Democrats accounted for about 4.5 of Santorum's 38 percent. Without those votes, it's a double-digit Romney shellacking (the final tally was 41-38).
Now, while it was better for Santorum to lose by three in Michigan than 12 points, this isn't just a matter of moral victories.
While the numbers aren't completely in, at best, Romney scored an even split in delegates. At worst, he lost the delegate count.
Now here's the thing—Democratic votes very likely delivered several of those delegates to
Romney Santorum. The way it worked, candidates received two delegates for every congressional district they won, while two more were apportioned "proportionately" based on the statewide vote. Those two got split, and would've split even without Democratic Santorum support. But in the CDs, it's a different story.
MI-13 is the most Democratic district in the state, in Detroit. Santorum won the district by about 1,500 votes, almost guaranteed crossover Democrats.
Next is MI-01, which Santorum won by less than a single percentage point, MI-03, which Santorum won by 1.86 percent, and MI-07, which Santorum won by 1.62 percen. Those three districts were close enough that crossover Democrats likely provided the final margin.
In other words, of Santorum' 15 delegates, eight were likely the result of Operation Hilarity.
So what should've been a Romney romp in the popular vote became an embarrassing nailbiter. And what should've been a delegate sweep became an embarrassing split—after spending $4.3 million in his home state.
Was it the clean victory we hoped for? Obviously not. But the results are muddled enough to create at least some of the chaos and confusion we hoped for. We denied Romney the kind of clean victory he needed to put this thing away. And while he took an important step toward clinching the nomination (a loss would've devastated him), he didn't lock it down.
And here's a bonus benefit—Santorum is taking serious lumps in the right-wing press for accepting the support of liberal Democrats. For those of you afraid this effort would boost his standing, the exact opposite is happening. His embrace of Operation Hilarity is actually diminishing it.
Next up for Operation Hilarity—open primaries or caucuses in North Dakota, Tennessee and Vermont.
10:48 AM PT (Jed Lewison): Another way of slicing the numbers—take a look at the exit poll data for those who strongly oppose the tea party. That's 12% of the electorate yesterday. 45% of those voters backed Santorum. I'd be willing to bet the vast majority of that 45% were giving Santorum a boost to hurt Romney. If you took all those voters out of the equation and assumed they stayed home, you'd go from a 3 percent win for Romney to a 9 percent win.
10:54 AM PT (Jed Lewison): According to the exit poll, nearly 15 percent of Santorum's votes came from people who strongly oppose the tea party. Probably a handful of those people are legitimate Santorum backers who oppose the tea party on tactical grounds, but I'm sure the vast majority were meddlers.