South Carolina Shocker!
Mitt Romney's humiliating 13 point loss to Newt Gingrich last night has zero, count 'em zero silver linings for the former front runner.
Newt on the other hand has now fully emerged at the anti-establishment challenger to the Romney coronation, a coronation gone oh so wrong. Furthermore, Newt now leads Mitt in the delegate count - 25 to 14 with 1,119 needed to secure the nomination.
Santorum may sink into irreverentcy due to his disappointing finish and his voters could well be up for grabs. Although he did end up winning Iowa by 34 votes...yet another demerit against Mitt, Sant must be upset over the misreported results as it could have charted a different path for him had he been the winner in Iowa three weeks ago.
So, what happened in the Palmetto State last night??
Romney effectively blew up his campaign in SC with the tax issue (he is getting TERRIBLE advice on this matter) and with sub par debate performances. He has played perfectly into the stereotype that he is the wealthy robber-baron with offshore money in the Cayman Islands. All we need is the Snidely Whiplash moustache.
More ominously, a majority of SC voters saw Newt as more electable. This is an advantage that Mitt has heretofore enjoyed in every survey.
Unfortunately his Mormonism also may have been a factor with some evangelical voters who made up 65% of the GOP primary vote.
He benefited from tremendous debate performances where he put the media on trial - this is red meat for conservative voters.
His feisty style overall resonated with SC voters...and they appear to have forgiven his many er, past moral transgressions. He is showing heart and passion, something conservatives are longing for in contrast with the buttoned-up Romney.
Newt won just about every GOP subgroup. If he can continue to do so he is very viable.
On to Florida and beyond...
Gingrich is now the real deal. Florida is voting in nine days. Expect Newt to raise a lot of money (he needs to, Mitt is flush with cash). Newt also has to organize quickly in order to turn the insurgent campaign into a truly national campaign. He also needs to show discipline and avoid going off track is he often does.
Mitt needs to show some passion and defend himself as a businessman. Oh yes, he must resolve the tax return issue, otherwise it may continue to hurt him. Expect him to be much more aggressive.
Florida is absolutely critical for both these candidates. If Romney loses here, the national Republican establishment will begin whispers of a new person to save the party (Newt has few fans in the inner circle). If he wins, he can breathe as the next contests in Nevada, Maine, and Missouri will have friendlier terrain for him - but only if he wins. Perception is reality. As I tell my students winning begets winning in politics and right now Newt is winning.
I am quite certain that President Obama and the Democrats are keeping close tabs on this and are enjoying the GOP split...however, the primary fight may make the eventual nominee stronger in the long run.