Newt Gingrich’s domination of the South Carolina primary has suddenly turned what most had assumed was a solemn Republican march to a Mitt Romney candidacy into at least for the moment, a serious two man showdown for the nomination. Here are a couple of our thoughts on the matter:
Ross Freiman-Mendel on Why Republicans Like Newt Gingrich:
He’s surprised everyone and proved the Republican establishment wrong on multiple occasions. After a stunning win in South Carolina, Newt Gingrich now leads in Florida and continues to undermine the Romney “inevitability” argument.
Romney exudes technocrat (plutocrat if you’re a liberal or Newt) – a statement on his affect, not policy. At his best, the Massachusetts Governor is uninspiring. Even if you’re inclined to agree with George Will, who finds the former speaker nauseating, Gingrich’s rhetoric makes you think he’s the next Ronald Reagan.
In terms of attracting the average voter, Rush Limbaugh explains Gingrich’s victory best:
I’ve been doing this show for 23 years, and one of my themes from the beginning — from 1988 — has been that the American conservative middle class are the ones playing by the rules, and they’re laughed at, and they’re made fun of, and they are impugned everywhere they look.
The base of the Republican Party, the voters, have been bottling up for 25 years a resentment — an anger, if you will — that their party won’t fight for them. When Newt gets teed up with these [debate] questions . . . and simply says what they’ve been thinking for 25 years, they say, ‘Finally!’
The effects of the debates are apparent, where Newt, “attacks his fellow candidates, the media, and President Obama with a gusto that’s almost joyous.” Ultimately, the reasons for the Newt’s surge are neither profound nor complicated. Romney is a flip-flopping milquetoast, and Newt’s the most palatable alternative.
Chip Lebovitz on Why South Carolina’s Results Present a Problem for Republicans:
The Newt Gingrich South Carolina primary victory is extremely problematic for Republicans, especially considering, it won’t really change the outcome. Mitt Romney will win the nomination if not for the sole reason that Gingrich just doesn’t have the organization to handle a protracted primary campaign. Just look at his disaster in Virginia. In a strange way, the better Gingrich does, the worse the Republican nominee will do in the general election. A Gingrich victory hurts Republicans, because he is too unreliable to stay on message for an entire general election campaign and, if you listen closely enough, lacks substance.
A longer race however, presents Romney with a couple more nuanced dilemmas. Problem one, a longer primary saps his strengths. Every day that Romney still has to seriously compete in the primary, one of his strengths – his electability – weakens. People will begin to wonder if Romney can’t finish off a weak field, how can he finish off a cornered incumbent president with a mighty war chest? Problem number two is much more worrisome, a prolonged primary presents more opportunities to wound Romney.
The most painful of these wounds for Romney has to be over his time at Bain Capital and his supposed vulture capitalism. In a time where the 99% movement is ascendant and the economy remains the number one issue among Americans, being a wealthy plutocrat is a definite drag on a candidate. Romney’s wealth has definitely hurt him in more than just tangible ways. The prism in which his words are comprehended is just fundamentally different than every other candidate. When Romney speaks, there is that nagging sensation in the back of your mind that wonders if Romney’s speaking down to you from his wealth. That’s an unfair but true reality.
The former Massachusetts Governor could have theoretically avoided this conundrum in a general election using the time-tested Republican strategy of accusing the Democratic president of “class warfare.” Now, however, the complaint over Romney’s work at Bain Capital buying and re-jiggering firms as being detrimental to society – which is an unfair statement in itself – has been institutionalized. The president can point to a slate of Republicans who have employed the attack to preempt the class warfare line of attack. After all, Republicans can’t be for class warfare in their primaries but suddenly be against it in a general election. Therefore at least part of Romney’s greatest strength in a head to head matchup with President Obama , his private sector experience, has been neutralized by of all people, his own party. Charles Krauthammer has a great, more in-depth look at this Republican folly.
The flipside of Romney’s second problem is that a longer primary toughens him up for the general election. After all, President Obama had a bruising primary with Hilary Clinton and he rocked the general election. That’s certainly true, except that line of reasoning doesn’t work so well with Romney. He’s already been running for basically six years, receiving the harsh glare of national media scrutiny for that entire period. Romney faced a 2008 election in which every major candidate more or less despised him. The president was running in his first national election and had only just been elected as a senator in 2006. Romney should be tough enough by now and, if he isn’t, he probably isn’t going to get any tougher. Any issues brought up now that damage him, excluding any that are based on a lack of conservative credentials, will be just as effective in the general election.
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