As the Gingrich-Romney cage match rages on into the spring, it’ll be increasingly tempting to grope for parallels with the epic Clinton-Obama clash of 2008. Will the eventual winner be “battle-tested” like Obama, a stronger candidate for having survived a slugfest, as some optimistic Republicans have argued? If favorability ratings are any indication, the answer appears to be an emphatic “no.” The longer the race goes on, it seems, the more people realize that they can’t stand Mitt Romney—and they already knew they didn’t like Newt Gingrich.
The whuppin’ Mitt Romney took in South Carolina made one thing abundantly clear: The man desperately needs a new rationale for his candidacy. “Electability” doesn’t cut it when your own party starts rejecting you. And in a time of renewed class consciousness, neither does touting yourself as a grand master of private equity. “He can’t run for CEO any more,” writes Michael Walsh at NRO. So what can he run as? If his campaigning in Florida today was any indication, the Romney people have no answer as yet. At a rally in Ormond Beach, Romney went whole-hog negative against Gingrich.
In one of the most startling turnarounds in presidential-primary history, Newt Gingrich scored a double-digit victory in South Carolina over Mitt Romney on Saturday.
When the week began, Romney was coming off an easy win in New Hampshire and had a comfortable-looking lead in every state poll. Every political forecaster in America saw him as the inevitable Republican nominee. But his worst debate performance of the campaign on Monday night was followed by a week of fumbles that gave the lie to his campaign’s legendary “discipline.” Romney, cast as a “vulture capitalist” and out-of-touch one-percenter—in a state with high unemployment—could not even muster a clear answer to questions about releasing his tax returns.
If it was obvious within seconds of Thursday night’s debate that Newt Gingrich was going to hit another rhetorical home run—only long as it took for him to glare icily and say “No, but I will” when John King asked if he wanted to comment about his ex-wife’s unsavory accusations—it was equally clear that Mitt Romney had struck out again when he tried to make a joke out of moderator King’s question about making his tax returns public. Would he follow in his father’s presidential-candidate footsteps and release a dozen years’ worth of returns?
Had everything gone according to expectations, Saturday’s South Carolina primary would have been the first in a series of showdowns between the surefire Iowa caucus winner, Rick Perry, and the inevitable New Hampshire primary victor, Mitt Romney. But if a presidential candidate has ever failed more spectacularly than Perry to live up to his hype, it’s hard to recall one.