Mitt Romney was clearly savoring the sweet taste of victory last night after the results of the Illinois primaries were announced. For the first time in a long time, Romney trounced his rivals unequivocally, no ifs or buts attached, and his relief was noticeable in his bright eyes, broad smiles and carefully crafted victory speech.

Romney ignored his rivals, as if this tedious Republican race was a thing of the past, the nomination was in his pocket and he was already engaged in the fateful duel against Barack Obama. In a speech cleverly chiseled by his copywriters, Romney lambasted “law professor” and “community organizer” Obama for “crushing the dream.” The pundits on television, bored by the quick call of Romney’s decisive victory, spent most of the evening speculating on his potential running-mates, if and when.

Of course only fools will dare to prophesize, as the Talmud warns, especially in a Republican race hitherto marked mainly by its volatility. As soon as this Saturday, Romney is expected to lose to his main rival, Rick Santorum, in Louisiana, and while the former Massachusetts governor is favored to win in most of the April primaries in Northeastern states, May looks decidedly more difficult for him, as the arena shifts back to ultra-conservative venues.

Still, it’s hard to ignore the potential impact of Romney’s unambiguous triumph in a state which only two or three weeks ago seemed to be in play for Santorum as well. But then Romney’s mean machine went into high gear in an aggressive negative campaign cleverly labeled “Mittskrieg” by Obama’s adviser David Axelrod (a phrase for which he was inanely blasted for “using Holocaust imagery”!) Outspending his rivals by a 7:1 margin, Romney simply brushed them aside, full speed ahead, with Santorum contributing to Romney’s margin of victory by declaring that “he didn’t care” about the national unemployment rate. Illinois Republicans, richer, better educated and less conservative than Santorum’s regular crowd, apparently begged to differ.

The former Pennsylvania senator continued to tout his credentials as the candidate of “freedom” and moral values in his post-primary speech in the almost ridiculously symbolic site of Gettysburg. Having given up hope, apparently, that Newt Gingrich will take pity on himself and leave the race, Santorum called on the former Speaker’s followers to abandon ship and join hands in order to fight for the conservative cause and to overtake the “manager” Romney.

But even Santorum can do the math: yesterday, at least, even if every single one of Gingrich’s voters had chosen Santorum instead, it still wouldn’t have been enough to spoil Romney’s grand old party.

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