Judging from the polls, Mitt Romney should feel comfortable about his position in the South Carolina Republican primary. According to the latest survey from Rasmussen, for example, the former Massachusetts governor leads with 35 percent of the vote. His closest competitor, Newt Gingrich, takes 21 percent support from the state’s voters.
Even still, the Romney campaign is incredibly cautious and, after Gingrich’s strong performance in Monday’s debate, they are worried that the former speaker might see a surge of support among South Carolina Republicans. As such, this morning the campaign launched twin assaults on Gingrich. Up first was this ad, featuring Congresswoman Susan Molinari, attacking Gingrich as an unreliable leader:
The Romney campaign also held a conference call in which Senator Jim Talent and Representative Molinari spoke with reporters about the former speaker and his leadership record in the House. Both Republicans were scathing in their assessment of their former colleague. “[The Republican Party] is now experiencing what we experienced in the 1990s with Speaker Gingrich. All of our colleagues have a story about going home and having to clean up after him,” said Talent, explaining the damage Gingrich did to GOP standing in the 1990s.
Representative Molinari took a similar approach, all but blaming the re-election of Bill Clinton on Gingrich’s actions as speaker. “We are worried that when the focus is on Newt, the Republican Party always loses. We don’t want Newt to elect another Democratic president.”
As it stands, the Romney campaign shouldn’t have to worry too much about that outcome; even if Gingrich won the South Carolina primary, he is ill-prepared for an actual nomination fight. Not only does he lack the resources to compete in Florida, survive through February, and compete on Super Tuesday in March, but Republican elites are united against his candidacy.
The most likely outcome of a Gingrich win in South Carolina is an onslaught on his campaign from the Republican establishment, much like we saw in Iowa. Even with support from super PACs and wealthy donors, it’s hard to see Gingrich coming out of that intact.