While Texas complicates things, the GOP did change their primary system this cycle. Traditionally, each state was winner-takes-all. The GOP decided that any state having its primary before April 1st would be proportionally divided in delegates. Those after April 1 could go winner-takes-all. This was done because some people felt that McCain won too quickly last cycle and they would have done better with a more conservative candidate.
So.... Given that Romney has a nearly identical delegate percentage relative to the rest of the field compared to McCain, shouldn't that suggest that he's an even stronger candidate? Fewer winner takes all states early in the race, right? Given his much better state-win record, we should assume he would be doing much much better in terms of delegates at this point. Still confirms my point IMO.
Ironically, now we have two conservatives (according to the voters anyway) splitting the vote and letting the "not-conservative" take the nomination. Best laid plans...
Ironic only if you accept your stated reasoning and play some games with the definition of "more conservative". I'm quite sure if someone else were leading, you'd be parroting the folks on your TV who told you that he was the "non-conservative" in the race. Makes the irony kinda meaningless when you can twist the definitions and labels after the fact to make it seem ironic no matter what's actually happening.
They wanted to produce the strongest candidate possible. They wanted to avoid short term opinion swings from having large effects on delegate count and thus the nominated candidate. And they wanted more media attention to their candidates and their process. And frankly, the changes have worked pretty much as advertised. There have been a few swings over the course of the process, but they have not had the same impact as they might have had in a more impacted season. Gingrich got a massive bump in popularity after the CNN debate question about his ex wife, but it only equated to one win because there was only one primary within a week of that happening. In a more compressed season, instead of just winning SC, he might have picked up 4 or 5 states from just that bump. Similarly, Santorum got a decent bump right when he swept three otherwise minor states. But that bump didn't last even to the next round of primaries.
It changes the strategy quite a bit. The traditional strategy is to time a bump right before a big primary day, use that bump to win several states, and then ride the fact that you just won a bunch of states on to win even more. It's all about timing that swing and the whole nomination often hinges on a single event. With the more protracted primary season it's about consistent performance. The voters are given more time between events and state contests to consider the whole picture and not just the emotions of the moment. This produces a better result IMO. Slow and steady wins the race, not a well timed bump.
Romney is winning because when conservatives take the time to think things through, he's the obvious candidate to go against Obama.
As the for the delegate division thing, some states are getting around it in various ways. Some have had "non-binding" caucuses where, realistically, the delegates will be given to whoever won the caucus. Florida just said "fuck you" and moved its primary to when it felt like and declared it winner-takes-all.
To be fair, several states have done this (to some degree). Or they have proportional delegate assignment that is so heavily swung towards the winner that it's pretty much a winner takes all anyway. But also, there were a number like that last time around as well. Winner takes all doesn't always mean winner takes all. It just means "most" a lot of the time.