South Carolina Surprise

It all seemed so simple for Mitt Romney, a/k/a the Weathervane, just a week ago.  He  had won New Hampshire by a wide margin and he was ahead by more than 10 points according to most polls in South Carolina.  He was poised to win the Palmetto State, and then on to Florida at the end of January.  After three victories in a row, the primaries would be effectively over and he could concentrate on the battle in the Fall.  Tonight Gingrich was declared the winner immediately after the close of the polls, crushing Romney, who had outspent Newt two to one, and who enjoyed the support of the South Carolina GOP establishment.  What happened?

It started to unravel last Monday in the first of the South Carolina debates, where Gingrich performed superbly, and Romney acted like a deer that had wandered into the debate, frozen by the television lights and unable to answer any questions coherently about the release of his taxes.

On Tuesday Sarah Palin announced that if she lived in South Carolina she would be voting for Gingrich, to keep the primary process going.  Her husband had endorsed Gingrich the week before.

All week Romney kept fumbling over the tax return issue, finally announcing that he would release his current tax return sometime in the Spring, and sheepishly mentioning that his effective tax rate was 15% due to most of his income being from investments.  His campaign continued to seem unable to respond to Gingrich attacks on Romney’s employment at Bain Capital.  Romney made a major faux pas when he stated that he had earned very little from speaking fees in 2010 and early 2011.  It turned out that the very little money was 374k, fortifying his image as an out of touch rich guy.  A very bad week for the Weathervane.

On Thursday Newt had an electric moment at the beginning of the second of the South Carolina debates.  Go here to read all about it.  This enhanced Gingrich’s image as a champion debater, and a fighter, taking no guff from a liberal media bent on destroying him.  This was tailor-made to appeal to Conservatives, and Gingrich should send a public thank you to John  King and CNN for allowing him to use them as a punching bag.  On Friday Perry dropped out and endorsed Gingrich, noting that Gingrich was not perfect, and emphasizing the redemptive power of religion.  If Perry had been as eloquent during his participation in the debates, he would now be the de facto Republican nominee.

So, what does this all mean?

1.    No Weathervane!-Most of the Republican base simply does not want Romney as the nominee.  They are suspicious that he is not really a conservative, and Romneycare is anathema to them.  Additionally, they do not believe the endless refrain that Romney is the most electable candidate.  They have seen him in the debates and are not impressed.  They fear that a passionless, defensive Romney will fumble a golden opportunity to send Obama packing.

2.    Gingrich the Fighter-Gingrich is a very flawed candidate both in his personal and public life.  He has more skeletons in his closet than Davy Jones has in his locker.  However, for most Republicans he has one redeeming feature:  he fights.  The perception in Republican circles is that in 2008 John McCain conducted a weak and passionless campaign.  Since that election Republicans have ground their teeth as Obama has implemented policies that they believe are disastrous for the nation.  The average GOP voter is fed up, angry and ready to fight.  Gingrich, whatever else can be said against him, fights and does so skillfully.

3.    Santorum is Done-In a just world Santorum, my candidate, would have won South Carolina and stand ready to give a knock-out blow to Romney in Florida.  Alas the cards did not play out that way.  Santorum is now the third man in a two man race.

4.     Where to from here?-Romney has the money, the organization and the endorsements.  However, Gingrich may have the voters.  Gingrich has a dismaying habit of shooting his mouth off when he is riding high, and he could well come a cropper soon.  However, for now he is the anti-Romney.  The real race for the Republican nomination started tonight.