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.
Mitt Romney’s off-hand revelations about his low tax rate and high speaker fees, combined with his growing list of Clueless Things Only a One-Percenter Could Say, raise a fundamental question: Is it possible for an elitist Republican to win a presidential election?
It was the most annoying and insulting refrain of the 1988 Democratic primaries: “What does Jesse want?” What the Reverend Jackson wanted, of course, was the nomination—which he came closer to winning than anybody seems to remember. And now it’s back, Ron Paul-style. “His goal is to make himself leader of the opposition—within the Republican Party,” writes Charles Krauthammer.