South Carolina slips through Romney’s hands


On paper, Mitt Romney has the resume to be a legitimate contender for the White House. He’s a successful businessman, an accomplished manager who’s been credited with saving the Salt Lake City Olympics, and a former governor with a signature accomplishment in healthcare reform; all of this makes him among the most qualified aspirants to run for the GOP since Ronald Reagan in 1980. Throw in the fact he’s a devout family man with telegenic looks, and he becomes nothing short of ideal.

But after a strong start in Iowa and New Hampshire, Romney blew a strong lead in South Carolina. He now appears vulnerable as the primaries move on to to Florida. Make no mistake about it, Romney still has the edge in terms of money, organization, and establishment endorsements. Yet Newt Gingrich was able to portray the choice for the Republican leadership last week as being between an authentic Reagan conservative and  a moderate Massachusetts conservative with a liberal record. He won handily as a result.

This says more about Romney’s weaknesses than Gingrich’s strengths. If Romney now loses in Florida, there will be panic among establishment Republicans. Romney’s problem seems to be his inability to convey to voters why he wants to be president and what he would do when he gets to the White House. This latest defeat raises doubts about Romney’s strongest asset—his supposed potential to beat Obama. Gingrich’s victory has shown that Romney may not have what is needed for the long-haul battle against Obama.

Is South Carolina a sign that Gingrich has been underestimated? Not necessarily. Newt is clearly the best debater among the Republican contenders. But anyone who has followed U.S. politics can’t be surprised that Gingrich has the experience, knowledge, and skills to be a formidable debater. What is perplexing, then, is that Romney seems to be constantly surprised by this.

Romney’s claims about job creation at Bain Capital were mostly legitimate, but he should have known that a private equity firm is not in the business of just creating jobs—and that his record at Bain would be challenged by small-business-owner Gingrich. Romney references his time as governor, but he rarely boasts about his accomplishments. He whines about Gingrich using “Obama-style” arguments against him, but Romney knows very well that presidential races aren’t for the feint of heart.

Unlike the Obama-Clinton contest in 2008, this Republican contest is not producing a stronger frontrunner. And this was already the GOP’s B-team, with the top names choosing to stay on the sidelines. Romney should have been an A-team candidate, but his performance this past week has pushed him further down the alphabet.


South Carolina slips through Romney’s hands

  1. “Yet Newt Gingrich was able to portray the choice for the Republican leadership last week as being between an authentic Reagan conservative and  a moderate Massachusetts conservative with a liberal record.”

    Did anyone else watch Meet The Press yesterday and find it hysterical watching Joe Scarborough tear his hair out about how Gingrich ISN’T A CONSERVATIVE, HE’S AN OPPORTUNIST. I am worried about Scarborough’s health if Gingrich continues to win.

    Most left wing types believe that Romney is most electable which means Repub base are most likely to loathe him. Four years ago it was media darling McCain and now Romney – NY Times types being fan of yours is kiss of death for Repubs.

    • Ann Coulter said that Newt winning would be throwing the baby out and being left with the bathwater.  She supports Romney.  The fault lines in the party are pretty complicated.

      • I think it has turned into disaster because Perry was supposed to be ‘tea party’ candidate against Romney and everything would have gone according to plan. Perry had other plans, however, and decided to do major face plant and drop out before South Carolina. 

        Repub base confused once Perry flamed out and couldn’t decide who Anyone But Romney candidate would be and now Repubs making Pres Obama look sensible which takes some doing. Neither Romney or Gingrich are particularly conservative but majority of Repubs want proper right winger.

        • Actually, every exit poll from the primaries that have taken place show that more Republicans care about beating Obama than nominating a “true conservative”. 

          “Most important candidate attribute”
          -Can defeat Obama: 31% (won by Romney)
          -True Conservative: 25%  (won by Paul)
          -Strong Moral Character: 24% (won by Santorum)
          -Right Experience: 16% (won by Romney)

          New Hampshire
          “Most important candidate attribute”-Can defeat Obama: 35% (won by Romney)-True Conservative: 13%  (won by Paul)-Strong Moral Character: 22% (won by Paul)-Right Experience: 26% (won by Romney)South Carolina”Most important candidate attribute”-Can defeat Obama: 45% (won by Gingrich)-True Conservative: 14%  (won by Gingrich)-Strong Moral Character: 18% (won by Santorum)-Right Experience: 21% (won by Gingrich)

  2. I’m going to address some possible hypotheses for why Gingrich won, drawing on the CNN exit poll data ( http://www.cnn.com/election/2012/primaries/epolls/sc )

    1. Anti-Bain issue
    I’m not sure that the Bain issue was the reason Romney lost. Exit polls asked voters about their view of Romney’s background as an investor. 64% had a positive view, versus 28% with a negative view (though Gingrich certainly did well among those with a negative view). The timing of Gingrich’s surge also contrasts with that view – Newt did particularly well among voters who made their decision on the day of the primary, or just a few days before (whereas his anti-Bain ads had been running for a while – Romney would have won if only those voters that had made up their mind earlier in the month and before had voted). 
    2. Everybody hates Romney
    Nor do exit polls suggest a particularly strong anti-Romney sentiment. Only 13% of those polled said they would not support Romney if he were the nominee. 3. Gingrich had tremendous debate performances just before the primary
    This certainly works in terms of the timing of Gingrich’s rise, and is supported by the exit polling data in a few ways. Among voters who considered the debates to be important to their vote (65% of all voters), Gingrich beat Romney 50-23. Among those that did not (35% of all voters), Romney beat Gingrich won 38-19 (in fact, even Santorum was ahead in that group). 

    It would also seem to dovetail nicely with the Gingrich campaign narrative – we need to elect somebody that can out-debate Obama. The argument is plausible, even though it is laughably untrue based on either matchup polls (Gingrich trails Obama by double digits, Romney does not) or favorability polls (Gingrich is not much more popular than congress). And electability was a very big concern for GOP voters (45% said “able to beat Obama” was their top concern). Among those citing electability, Gingrich beat Romney 51-37. 

    It probably helped that the wave of attacks on Gingrich from Paul and Romney had subsided to a degree by then. 

    If Romney wants to reverse Gingrich’s rise, he needs to educate voters on the reality that Gingrich would be a terrible nominee. He might win the debates (as Kerry did against Bush), but he would surely lose the election. That may be a difficult case to make, however, because Gingrich is so effective at what I’ll call “rich old white guy identity politics” (in other words, Gingrich is a white Al Sharpton) – and people tend to assume that other voters are just like them. 

  3. Thses Republicans are zany . mitt is phony , Newt is a hypocrite , Paul is nuts and Santorum is a zealot . Bring back W!!!!

  4. “Yet Newt Gingrich was able to portray the choice for the Republican leadership last week as being between an authentic Reagan conservative and  a moderate Massachusetts conservative with a liberal record.”

    Parisella hit it on the head here.  That is exactly Romney’s problem – people are worried that he’s not actually a conservative.  

    Then again, I think one ought to have the same concerns with respect to Gingrich.

    Also, I think it’s “faint of heart”.  The phrase as written suggests a mild cardiac seizure.

    • That’s a plausible story, but not one that is supported by the evidence. When asked which candidate attribute they thought was most important, South Carolina primary voters said: 
      Can defeat Obama – 45%
      True Conservative – 14%
      Strong Moral Character – 18%
      Right Experience – 21%

      And Gingrich didn’t do especially well among those voters either, barely beating Santorum in the category, 38-33. He won in South Carolina by winning 51% of the “can defeat Obama” voters and 49% of the “right experience” voters. And then there’s a matter of timing – people have been going after Romney for being moderate for a long time – why is it only having an impact now?

      The story that best fits the evidence is that Gingrich’s debate performances effectively portrayed him to conservative voters as somebody that can beat Obama. That is actually encouraging for Romney, in a way, because it suggests GOP voters hate Obama more than they might hate, say, a “Massachusetts moderate”.

      • I stand corrected.

        I should have been suspicious that something was off when I found myself wholeheartedly agreeing with a Parisella piece…

      • Romney did well last night . He is more atrractive to independants . Gingrich has yet to prove that ,and that is the way to beat. Obama.Santorum will fade . He wants to go to war with Iran and who knows , Cuba . To be fair , Paul may have captured the mood on war issues better than the others . Romney  lacks connectivity and that is why he can’t close the deal .Gingrich was ok last night .

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