Monday Reads: What Hath Newt Wrought?Posted: January 23, 2012
How would you like to have to look at that poster until November? Well, quite a few of the pundits are now saying that it could happen. It’s still unlikely as of today, but it’s pretty clear the Republican base simply doesn’t like Mitt Romney, and the only other choices are a crazy old man, a guy who wants to ban birth control and divorce, and Newt Gingrich.
It’s not looking so good for Romney, unless he can start to connect better with Republican voters. He’s still the overall front runner, but if he can’t win big in Florida that could change. Unfortunately for Romney, there’s another debate tonight, and 88% of voters in SC said the debates were very influential in their voting decisions.
I’m fascinated by what is happening to the Republicans, and I spent quite a bit of time yesterday reading opinions on what Newt’s victory in South Carolina means and what might happen next. I thought this morning I’d share some of what I read with you.
Howard Fineman says the Republican race for the nomination will now last “forever, or at least until May.”
The GOP calendar this year is more spread out than it was four years ago, which means that the contest was going to last until at least late April even if Romney had buried Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul long ago. But now that South Carolina has given a boost to Gingrich — and a small but important cache of delegates — it’s clear how long the campaign will last….
Four years ago, nearly 60 percent of all delegates had been chosen by the end of February. Republican officials wanted to correct for that this time around, but they may have overdone it. This year a mere 15 percent of all delegates will have been chosen by the end of February — and even if there were a prohibitive frontrunner (which there is not), no one could mathematically wrap up the nomination before April 24.
Fineman explains that the states have different rules for apportioning delegates. South Carolina is winner take all in each Congressional district. New Hampshire is proportional, so right now Gingrich probably has more delegates than Romney. He suggests there could even be a floor fight at the Convention. And former RNC chairman Michael Steele agrees, saying there’s now a 50-50 chance of that happening.
At Real Clear Politics, Sean Trende writes:
There is no good news buried in here for Mitt Romney. None. As of this writing, Mitt Romney is leading in three counties in South Carolina: Charleston, Beaufort (Hilton Head) and Richland (Columbia). He lost fast-growing, coastal Horry County, home of Myrtle Beach, by 15 points. He lost Greenville and Spartanburg, in the upcountry, by similar margins. He lost Edgefield County by 40 points….
According to the exit polls, Romney lost among every major category of voter. The demographic groups he managed to win include those with postgraduate degrees (18 percent of the electorate), people earning $200,000 or more (5 percent), moderates (23 percent), non-evangelicals (35 percent), and pro-choicers (34 percent). None of the leads over Gingrich in these groups were particularly large.
He says Romney is no longer the inevitable nominee.
Simply put, there are very few states where he can perform among the major demographic groups the way he performed in South Carolina and still expect to win. And remember, this is still in many ways the electorate that selected Christine O’Donnell, Carl Paladino and Linda McMahon as its standard-bearers — in very blue states with relatively moderate GOP electorates, no less.
This vote was an utter repudiation of Romney, and it absolutely will be repeated in state after state if something doesn’t change the basic dynamic of the race. It is true that Gingrich doesn’t have funds or organization, but he gets a ton of free media from the debates, and he has an electorate that simply wants someone other than Romney.
Trende says there about a 35% chance that Romney could lose the nomination now. It turns out that Romney did get some delegates from SC–a total of 2 out of the total of 25. That’s pretty pathetic.
Ed Morrissy at Hot Air calls Romney “evitable” now. He isn’t as negative about Mitt’s chances as Trende was.
It’s worth noting that Romney won the same percentage of the vote (27%) that polls showed him having two weeks ago when he led 27/24 over Rick Santorum. Gingrich won by firing up nearly everyone else and getting 40% of the vote in South Carolina. That was an amazing accomplishment, all the more so because it mainly resulted from the two televised debates, and despite as well as because of the attack from Gingrich’s second former wife Marianne.
How did that happen? Thanks to that confluence of events, personal performance, and a couple of stumbles by Romney in the debates, Gingrich tapped into the lingering dissatisfaction of conservatives with Romney, fear of losing any chance of stopping Romney, and anger against the national media. This was an emotional sale, not primarily based on policy choices, which haven’t changed in months on either side. His big win will spark hope that Romney can be beat in the primaries, and the scope of that win will impact the Florida race, certainly.
However, it’s probably not a gamechanger, at least not on its own.
At New York Magazine, John Heilemann thinks Romney is really in trouble. Here’s his take on the exit polls from SC:
Gingrich beat Romney soundly across the board: 42–26 with men and 38–29 with women; by nine or more points in every age cohort; by double digits in every educational cohort except those voters with postgraduate study (which Romney won by a bare two points); among both married and unmarried voters; among the poor, the middle class, and the rich; among Republicans and independents; among the very conservative and the somewhat conservative, losing only (by just five points) among self-described moderates or liberals; among tea party backers, God-squadders, Protestants, and Catholics; among those most concerned about beating Barack Obama, about being a true conservative, and about having the right experience for the job of president; among late deciders and early deciders; and especially dramatically among those for whom the debates were important.
Heilemann thinks Gingrich could win Florida.
Florida is a closed primary, the first contest so far in which only registered Republicans are allowed to cast ballots. And the state’s GOP voters are far more conservative and anti-Establishment than many people understand. This is especially true in the panhandle of northern Florida, where Gingrich is likely to take up residence for much of the time between now and the vote on January 31. But watch for Gingrich to play hard for the state’s Hispanic voters — and not just the Cuban-Americans who are thick on the ground in South Florida but also the polyglot Latino population around Orlando — by emphasizing his stance on immigration, which is notably more moderate than Romney’s. Between all this and the wave of momentum and free media coverage he’ll enjoy coming out of South Carolina, the former speaker, I think, has the upper hand, though not by a lot.
Romney could very well end up regretting taking such a hard line on immigration, but he really can’t switch now. After all, his reputation as a flip-flopper is part of what makes voters so suspicious of him.
And get this: Politico says that Jeb Bush is planning to stay neutral throughout the Florida primary. I’ll bet some GOP establishment types are going to be calling him and begging him to endorse Romney.
We’ve often noted how lucky Obama has been his whole life. He got lucky again with the SC results, says Andrew Romano at The Daily Beast.
South Carolina takes Obama’s luck to another level. Last weekend, pundits insisted that there was only one plausible scenario going forward: Romney captures the Palmetto State and wraps up the nomination by the end of January. That would have been bad for Obama because the Republican attacks on Romney would have ended and Romney’s attacks on Obama would have intensified.
But now there are two possible outcomes, and both of them appear to be rosier for the president. The first is that Romney still clinches the nomination, but not this month, or next, or even the one after that. As Howard Fineman reports, the GOP slap fest will now last “at least until May”—“not only because there seems to be a genuine three-way race in the offing (or at least a two-and-a-half-way) involving Gingrich, Romney, and Paul, but because of the GOP’s primary calendar and state-by-state rules for choosing delegates.”
Hey, I wouldn’t be discounting Santorum either. With Newt’s history of blowing up, anything can happen now.
Charles Krauthammer is really pissed at the “bumbling GOP” for helping Obama out. According to Krauthammer, the anti-Romney candidates are responsible for handing Obama a winning issue–income inequality.
The struggling Democratic class-war narrative is suddenly given life and legitimacy by … Republicans! Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry make the case that private equity as practiced by Romney’s Bain Capital is nothing more than vulture capitalism looting companies and sucking them dry while casually destroying the lives of workers….
Suddenly Romney’s wealth, practices and taxes take center stage. And why not? If leading Republicans are denouncing rapacious capitalism that enriches the 1 percent while impoverishing everyone else, should this not be the paramount issue in a campaign occurring at a time of economic distress?
Now, economic inequality is an important issue, but the idea that it is the cause of America’s current economic troubles is absurd. Yet, in a stroke, the Republicans have succeeded in turning a Democratic talking point — a last-ditch attempt to salvage re-election by distracting from their record — into a central focus of the nation’s political discourse.
Paul Begala and James Carville are both gloating about the surprise turnaround that took place Saturday. Begala writes:
[W]e can hear the weeping, the wailing, the gnashing of teeth of the Republican establishment as Gingrich’s victory sends them into full-blown panic. I’m not talking about mere fear, nor normal nervousness. Not even the feeling you get when the captain says, “We’ve lost power in one of our four engines.” No, this is worse. Worse even than when your doctor says, “I don’t like the looks of that shadow on the X-ray.”
This is terror. Chest-clutching, breath-sucking, soul-shaking panic. This is your teenage daughter telling you, “I think I’m in trouble.” This is a Turkish border guard pulling you into a holding room when you’ve got a baggie of coke in your pocket. This is what George H.W. Bush famously called “deep doo-doo.”
And why did Gingrich win–the debates.
Gingrich won the South Carolina primary not because of advertising, but rather because of his debate performances. Eighty-eight percent of South Carolina Republicans said the debates were important to making up their minds, and in the two key debates, Gingrich hit every GOP erogenous zone. He scolded Fox News’s Juan Williams when Williams asked him about the dog-whistle language Gingrich uses to stir up racial stereotypes. Williams, the author of Eyes on the Prize, a respected history of the civil-rights movement, knows of what he speaks. But Gingrich knows his party’s base, and the base loves both the coded language and attacking anyone who calls them on it.
But it was Thursday night’s CNN debate that sealed the deal. Going into the debate, Gingrich and Romney were tied in the polls. And each had an important and obvious question they were going to be asked: for Gingrich, it was his ex-wife’s explosive allegation that he had asked for an “open marriage.” For Romney, it was whether he would release his tax returns. Think about it: which question would you rather answer? Mitt had the easier challenge by a mile. Yet Gingrich got a standing ovation by bitterly denouncing moderator John King in particular and the media in general. Romney got booed for his weak, waffling non-answer.
Carville says the Republicans “have a disaster on [their] hands.”
Let me break it to you gently — you’ve got a first-class disaster on your hands. I know you boys thought this thing would work out and you would be able to whip the Republicans in line to fall in behind Mitt (I assume you are all males but if there is a female in the establishment, I apologize.) Not going too good, is it fellows?
It’s been a terrible time to be a Republican. There have been many moments during this process that have caused me great joy. Certainly the events of Thursday, ending with the CNN debate, and even the Fox debate Monday night, have helped ease the pain of my beloved Tigers’ and Saints’ recent defeats.
I mean, most people thought it was kind of a watermark when your Tea Party gang booed the golden rule. You know, I’ve spent some time in Philly and they have always thought they were pretty radical because they actually booed Santa Claus and Willie Mays. Philly, I’ve got news for you — you ain’t got nothing on South Carolina Republicans. They just aren’t buying any of that do-unto-others garbage….
But Carville claims he “feels their pain.”
Meanwhile things are getting ugly between Newt and Mitt, and when things get ugly Newt has the advantage. Gingrich says he’s “confident” he can beat “timid Romney.” Mitt Romney reportedly sent a cake to Gingrich headquarters to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Newt’s ethics scandal. And Mitt Romney surrogate Chris Christie called Gingrich an “embarrassment” to the GOP.
I will be watching the debate tonight for as long as I can stand it. Will Newt come up with a new reason to attack the media? Will Mitt develop a personality? Will Santorum draw attention to himself by talking about his membership in Regnum Christi, a catholic cult founded by a drug addict, bigamist, and pedophile named Marciel Maciel? Will Santorum reveal that Gingrich is also connected to this cult?
Tune in to the debate tonight if you’re also curious.