Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has pulled off a comeback for the political books and has won the South Carolina Republican Presidential primary. And he did it by double digits: at this writing he wins with 40% and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney comes in second with 28 percent.
If Gingrich had won by a little the Romney camp could spin it. But the Gingrich win — and Romney loss — is so huge that it can’t be interpreted as anything else but as conservative Republican voters repudiating the once-upon-a-time-moderate Romney, the Republican establishment that has been backing Romney (reports tonight suggest Jeb Bush will soon endorse Romney formally), and making it clear they want the most verbally aggressive, red-meat-throwing candidate to take on President Barack Obama.
Unless Florida changes it, tonight’s vote gravely affects the Romney “electability” argument.
Some are now using the phrase: “Game changer..” But is it? Read TMV Assistant Editor Pat Edaburn’s view HERE.
This is a major setback for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has come in second even though just a week ago had pundits buzzing about how he’d win in South Carolina and therefore sweep the first three primaries. This narrative was shattered when the Iowa Republican Party announced that former Sen. Rick Santorum was the winner.
Romney’s speech to his followers contained boilerplate material but also suggested that when Gingrich attacks him on Bain Capital he is attacking free enterprise. He seems to be suggesting that a major attack line against Gingrich will now being how Gingrich is allegedly attacking free enterprise. “Those who pick up the weapons of the left today will see them turned against us in the future,” he declared in a reference to Gingrich. Says if Republican leaders join Barack Obama in denigrating free enterprise “they will not be fit to be our nominee.”
Romney did NOT deliver a typical concession speech. It was a highly defiant speech. On MSNBC: Chris Matthews on MSNBC says Romney has now pivoted from jobs to being a “conviction candidate” who defends success “and about how great that is..but not about job creation, not about getting the country moving again..an amazing almost shameless display of wealth right now…Tonight we saw a guy prepared to brag about wealth, brag about wealth” and not even try to argue that his success created jobs for anyone else. Judge for yourself:
Gingrich’s victory means the GOP is now faced with a historical outcome: three candidates have each won one of the first three primaries (former Sen. Rick Santorum in Iowa, Romney in New Hampshire, and now Gingrich in South Carolina).
Another tidbit: exit poll breakdowns from both NBC and CNN found that the debates were a major factor in deciding how people voted — suggesting either one of two consequences a) candidates will want to debate more (it can trump big money and reach voters or b) front runners will find a way to get out of slated debates. CBS has an article on the impact of debates HERE:. 2/3 of the voters said the debates mattered. Even worse for Romney: several networks say that Gingrich decimated Romney when voters were asked who was the most electable.
The Huffington Post has the headline of the year: “Mitt Newt-ered.”
And (yes, this is a sign that you-know-where has frozen over) Democratic strategist James Carville on CNN has saluted Gingrich for his “magnificent political achievement.” CNN also reports that Gingrich got 43% of the vital Tea Party vote.
The bottom line?
In terms of South Carolina politics, in one week Mitt Romney has gone from being Big Mo to Big Shmo.
Romney now has more riding on Florida than Lady Godiva had riding on a horse.
Gingrich delivered his victory speech — a speech delivered after about as complete a victory as a GOPer could have in a primary. It reprised some of his most popular lines aimed at his existing supporters. It was not a speech reaching out to other constituencies both within his party (people who might want Romney who are not as conservative), independents and moderate Democrats:
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich stormed to an upset victory in the South Carolina primary Saturday night, dealing a sharp setback to former front-runner Mitt Romney and suddenly scrambling the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
In victory, Gingrich praised his Republican rivals and attacked President Barack Obama and “elites in New York and Washington.”
Obama is “the most effective food stamp president in history,” he said. “I would like to be the best paycheck president in American history.” Those declarations and his attack on the “elite news media” reprised two of his more memorable lines from a pair of debates that helped fuel his victory.
Exit polls showed he led among voters who said their top priority was picking a candidate who could beat Obama — a group that had preferred Romney in earlier contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.
On MSNBC, NBC’s Political Director Chuck Todd reports that in conservative areas Gingrich had a 20 percent lead over Romney. The expected McCain coalition votes that Romney was hoping to get did not materialize. Todd notes that in Florida, it will be a closed primary — with no independents and a conservative electorate.
7.55 pm. Balko tweets:
The good news if Newt wins: We won’t hear all the family values crap in the general election. And if we do, it will at least be hysterical.
Oh, we’ll hear it. The issue has never been actual behavior. In the current GOP, heterosexuals are to be forgiven; homosexuals are to be damned. Newt and Callista will attack gay marriage with full guns blazing.
7.52 pm. Krauthammer classic: “Humility is not my strong suit.”
7.51 pm. It’s rare that bigotry hurts the GOP. But it sure hurt Romney tonight. 12 percent said they wouldn’t support Romney if he were the nominee, and 48 percent said they would only do so with reservations. How do you rally your base as you must against Obama with numbers like this?
7.45 pm. Even over at PJMedia, some are noticing the evangelical Mormon problem – both in South Carolina and for the fall:
Mormonism was one reason Romney lost South Carolina. Exit polls show that most South Carolina voters wanted a candidate that shared similar religious views. Romney lost big among those voters. Note, I am not describing what ought to be, but rather what the data show is happening. This does not bode well for Romney’s electability in the fall. Evangelicals are the base of the GOP. If they stay home, Republicans lose …
Maybe that’s why South Carolinian Republicans believe Gingrich is more electable.
UPDATE ON SULLIVAN: Andrew Sullivan added this at the end. This is excerpted so go the link to read it in full:
9.54 pm. I’m done now. Enjoy your Saturday night. My take away? This is the Republican crack-up people have been predicting for years. Gingrich is on a roll. I think he can win this – and then lose this in a way that could change America history. That is a brief impression in one moment of time. But I cannot see Romney winning this at this point. They are just not into him, and he’s an awful candidate.
9.35 pm. The core of the speech: Gingrich is fighting the “elites” who for 35 years have been trying to turn America into something else. This is a former Speaker of the House, and a denizen of the Washington trough. And he still sees himself as an outsider. But he’s playing nice tonight – especially with Santorum. Is he trying to charm him out of the race? Then he endorses Ron Paul’s view on the Federal Reserve. And praises Romney as a good organizer. These individuals are somehow a response to the “elites”. Even a multi-millionaire son of a former governor.
Then the Obama-Is-An-Alien line……..
…..And we have the core McCarthyite theme: American exceptionalism versus the Saul Alinsky radicalism. “We” are Americans. Obama is a traditional America-hater.
Then the religion card: the increasing anti-religious “bigotry” of the elites will be his enemy. He will deploy race and religion and nationalism as his themes. No wonder South Carolina loved him. And rather than retreating on the racially charged “food stamp president” line, he reiterates it.
This is what the GOP now is, and it deserves its spokesman. But do not under-estimate the appeal to some of the idea of humiliating and removing the first black president. That’s what Gingrich is really about. He is giving them what they want. And it’s meat that has barely seen a skillet…..
….Then we hear about Obama’s “extreme left-wing allies from San Francisco” and now he is a “danger to this country”. “He makes Jimmy Carter look strong.” He wants the final showdown between America and socialism/Marxism/radicalism/Jihadism/Obama. And the rage among some about a black president actually exercizing authority is real. This man can roil it brutally, shamelessly, mercilessly. And he will.
Newt has taken the worst the media, Romney and the left can dish out, and he’s still standing and fighting with passion and eloquence. Sure, he’d probably be an erratic President, but right now Republican voters don’t care about his Presidency. They care about the fight with the left both Mitt Romney, and the Washington Republican leaders like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell don’t seem inclined to engage in.
In every way in the last two weeks, Romney has signaled he won’t fight for the base. He looks like a lost child when trying to answer the taxes issue. He couldn’t stand up to Santorum in the debate. He sounds every bit like Gordon Gekko, not Milton Friedman, when he talks Bain and free markets.
Basically, today’s vote is about Republican grassroots giving the Washington Republican establishment the finger. The base is angry, and right now, only Newt is left to fight for them, as imperfect as he is. We may still end up with Romney, but voters aren’t going to let him have it easily.
Party leaders who have invested so much in Mitt Romney might want now to ride on to a brokered convention and find someone acceptable to everyone. Because this most divisive and bitter primary in years is going to wipe out the GOP’s chances to win in November. And while few of the Romney advocates of the past four years will admit it, it is because they have tried to foist onto the base a milquetoast moderate from Massachusetts as energizing to conservatives as a dead battery.
NEWS AND BLOG REPORTING:
4:22 PST: MSNBC:
Newt Gingrich has won the South Carolina Republican primary, capping off a remarkable comeback for his presidential bid that reshapes the trajectory of the battle for the GOP nomination.
Based on early exit polls, NBC News projects Gingrich as the winner of the primary, while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will finish second.
The results mark the end of a tumultuous week in politics that saw Gingrich erase and then overcome the lead Romney had in the Palmetto State following his victory in the Jan. 10 New Hampshire primary. Gingrich came on strong in the closing days of the campaign, looking to rally under his banner the many conservatives unwilling to get behind Romney, who had sought to posture himself as the eventual nominee.
Gingrich’s performance in South Carolina was driven in thanks to late deciders, who broke decisively in his direction in the last few days of the campaign. That stretch saw two debate performances by Gingrich, on Monday and Thursday nights. Almost two-thirds of voters said the debates were an important factor in their decision, and Gingrich won about half of them.
More broadly, core elements of the GOP base in South Carolina – conservatives, Tea Party supporters and evangelical Christians – broke for Gingrich. And the former speaker even edged Romney in two important constituencies for the former Massachusetts governor: voters who said electability in November was their most important concern in a nominee, and voters who said the economy was their top issue.
The results upset the conventional wisdom in the race, which had set expectations for Romney to score a knockout blow against his competitors with a win in the Palmetto State.
4:26 PST: Hot Air’s Allahpundit:
Once Gingrich is formally crowned Not Romney tonight and becomes the last real obstacle to Mitt’s nomination, he shouldn’t have any trouble raising money for months to come. One of his advisors told Stephen Hayes, in fact, that Newt will be in it until the convention. I wouldn’t rule out a “real stumble” from Romney on the trail either. As effective as Gingrich has been this week, Romney has been terrible, hemming and hawing about his tax returns to feed the suspicion that he has something to hide and letting his campaign stupidly float the idea that he might back out of one of the Florida debates, which plays right into Newt’s message that he isn’t tough enough to handle Obama. He won’t implode in a flash the way Perry did with his answer on in-state tuition for illegals, but if he continues to look weak and untrustworthy he could bleed enough support to keep Gingrich going.
Too much emphasis on religion in SC analyses. Mormonism didn’t help Romney but he lost b/c of his mistakes & Gingrich debates.
9 minutes ago
Small but not nonexistent. @sonodoc99 Odds on deadlocked convention?
10 minutes ago
Very mixed historically on long primary fights. Some help nominee (’08D ’76D), others hurt (’76R,’84D). Each yr different. @SMoonNY
11 minutes ago
Only since 1980. Didn’t have IA/NH/SC as 1st 3 states until then. @andrewschmidt24 @fivethirtyeight @chucktodd
18 minutes ago
Late expectations exactly on target–clear Gingrich victory. Each of 1st 3 states have picked candidate closest to its own R profile.
20 minutes ago
4:37 PST: Romney’s advisors have already started the (SIGH) typical spin. Spin in American politics means someone says something he or she knows is false and everyone listening knows its false but somehow it’s supposed to convince people by saying it that it is accurate. And here it is via ABC:
Though he spent the last six months working to deliver a win for Mitt Romney in the Palmetto State, Romney’s South Carolina campaign chairman Curtis Loftis, was already looking ahead to other contests as news networks projected Newt Gingrich would win Saturday’s primary.
Lofits, South Carolina’s elected state treasurer, joined the Romney campaign in August. Back then, he said he thought the campaign “would be successful if we came in a strong third.”
But in the closing weeks of the South Carolina primary, Loftis said he was pleased to be “battling out for first.”
“We exceeded our expectations,” Loftis said in an interview with ABC News at Romney’s election night party at the South Carolina state fairgrounds. “South Carolina is the reddest of red states, so it’s difficult for all but the most conservative people to run. So, we’ve done well. We’re set to go to the other states. We have campaign operations in all these other states. And you have to look at the fact that Speaker Gingrich doesn’t. He’s not even on the ballot in places like Virginia.”
Loftis added, “We’re ideally set up for a long process. We never thought it was going to be three and out. We always thought it was going to be a long haul.”
(And if you believe all of this, here’s a song for YOU.)
Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich swept to victory in South Carolina’s Republican primary on Saturday, riding strong debate performances in recent days to upset Mitt Romney.
Mr. Romney had been leading in public opinion surveys only days ago.
Mr. Gingrich’s come-from-behind win—just over a week after his fifth-place finish in New Hampshire—scrambles the Republican nomination race. It punctures Mr. Romney’s air of inevitability and gives Mr. Gingrich a significant boost going into Florida, where he must surmount Mr. Romney’s superior organizational and financial edge in the Jan. 31 primary there.
The win is a significant milestone for Mr. Gingrich, whose candidacy was severely damaged last summer when most of his top aides resigned en masse. He carried on with little staff or money afterward.
—Zandar Versus the Stupid:
Combine that with the news that the Iowa GOP dropped their idiotic pretense of a tie and Santorum won, and Mitt goes from Mr. Inevitable to Mr. Inexplicable. The battle is now truly on. Let the bloodletting begin. We’re in this for the long run now: Florida on the 31st and beyond to Super Tuesday in March.
4:56 PST: From Daily Kos live blogging:
4:46 PM PT (David Nir): David Gergen, mimicking Alex Castellanos earlier, saying if Mitt loses FL, “There will be a lot of people in the Republican Party asking: Who else can we get?”
4:48 PM PT: Okay, Keith Obermann is rocking it in his coverage.
4:50 PM PT: MS Gov. Haley The governor’s nepotistic nephew Henry Barbour explains the GOP establishment’s position on Newt:
Henry Barbour, an influential Mississippi Republican and nephew of the former governor, attended Perry’s news conference to show support for his favored candidate but said immediately afterward he wouldn’t back Gingrich.
“I like having a Republican speaker of the House,” Barbour cracked, suggesting Gingrich would be a disaster as the GOP nominee. “He puts all our down-ticket candidates at risk.”
4:50 PM PT: Santorum: “I think our momentum is going to be a little longer lasting.” Ha!
4:52 PM PT: Mitt Romney lost voters of all income levels except those making over $200K:
Believe it or not (and I didn’t think it possible), Mormonism was one reason Romney lost South Carolina. Exit polls show that most South Carolina voters wanted a candidate that shared similar religious views. Romney lost big among those voters. Note, I am not describing what ought to be, but rather what the data show is happening.
This does not bode well for Romney’s electability in the fall. Evangelicals are the base of the GOP. If they stay home, Republicans lose, like they did when they nominated the moderate John McCain. But more importantly, Catholics may decide this election in places like Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. And the Catholic Church makes no secret of its view of Mormonism. An unexcited evangelical base combined with skeptical moderate Catholic voters undermines Romney’s chief campaign message of the last month — “most likely to beat Obama.” It could be a prescription for a November defeat.
Romney will spin that Florida is his firewall because he has an organization there. But he also had one in South Carolina. Tonight was a game changer.
6:08 PST: Some selected Tweets from Andy Borowitz:
BorowitzReport Andy Borowitz
Gingrich victory speech: “I say to each and every one of you: Join me. Join me in my marriage.” #SCPrimary
14 minutes ago
Obama on Newt’s win: “I haven’t been this happy since we smoked bin Laden.” #SCPrimary
17 minutes ago
Gingrich victory was predicted by NBC at 7:00, and by the Book of Revelation 2000 years ago. #SCPrimary
22 minutes ago
Santorum: “I support the rights of the unborn child until it’s born and wants a gay marriage.” #SCPrimary
27 minutes ago
Gingrich: “Tonight’s great victory means I’m staying in this race for another three wives.” #SCPrimary
42 minutes ago
Shorter Romney: “I’m pissed at you, America. Thank God I haven’t paid you any taxes.” #SCPrimary
58 minutes ago
Gingrich says he got a call from Obama: “He stopped laughing just long enough to say congratulations.” #SCPrimary
1 hour ago
BREAKING: Gingrich Leads Romney By Two Wives #SCPrimary
1 hour ago
Gingrich leading Romney by 16%, which is more than Romney pays in taxes. #SCPrimary
1 hour ago
For Mr. Gingrich, the victory marked a decisive revival for a candidacy that had been declared dead at least twice, and that came back to life in the last days before the primary here partly because of his commanding debate performances, which his aides are using as a selling point in their argument that he provides the best challenge to President Obama.
The victory for the former House speaker effectively resets the Republican nominating contest for the next important test a week from Tuesday in Florida, which Mr. Romney’s campaign considers an important bulwark for his candidacy. It is one of the most expensive states to campaign in, and Mr. Romney’s aides have been counting on being able to outspend and outperform Mr. Gingrich there.
But as Mr. Gingrich began to climb rapidly in polls this week, and Mr. Romney’s aides prepared for defeat, they said they would not be so bold as to predict an easy time in Florida, given how the momentum could affect the dynamic of the next contest.
If nothing else, the fact that just over half of South Carolina voters said in exit polls that they made up their minds at the last minute shows just how fluid and restive the Republican electorate remains — a troubling sign for Mr. Romney that Mr. Gingrich is now poised to capitalize upon.
And after being so confident just 10 days ago — before its declared victory in Iowa was rescinded and Mr. Gingrich began his rise — the Romney campaign is now not only fighting the perception that Mr. Romney cannot consolidate broad support among conservative voters, but also at least one troubling fact of history: No Republican has gone on to win the party’s nomination without winning South Carolina since before 1980.
—Hugh Hewitt has a post that needs to be read in full on National Review. Some parts of it:
The South Carolina electorate didn’t vote for a person or a platform; they voted for a personality — the fiery, combative, MSM-hating Newt. They want the GOP nominee to charge at the president, throw around the term Alinksyite, push back at John King and Juan Williams, and shout out the absurdity of Barack Obama as president and the destructiveness of his combination of epic incompetence and awful ideology.
I suspect that the GOP as a whole has a lot of this pent-up anger at the Manhattan-Beltway media elites, and they too have been cool to cool hand Mitt as a result.
But if, having been indulged, that passion for a political fistfight ebbs and the desire to win grows, Romney will be a much, much better nominee for having blown a round on points and too timid by far a strategy.
Newt’s greatest contribution to the race has been to demonstrate that the style of political argument that Chris Christie and Paul Ryan debuted in the last couple of years actually is not a luxury but a necessity to win hearts and minds in the GOP. The 2012 election will not be won because of Mitt Romney’s tax returns or his years at Bain, or because of Newt’s past marriages or the payments from Freddie.
2012 will be decided on whether the American people rouse themselves as they did in 2010, and having roused themselves again, are less afraid of the decline staring them in the face than they are of the painful but promising future and the GOP nominee who is promising to lead them to it by first returning to the founding principles of the country.
Incredibly the GOP next turns its fate over to NBC on Monday night. Advice to Mitt and Rick: Don’t copy Newt, but understand that he won in South Carolina because he absolutely refuses to let the MSM set the agenda, which is the president’s agenda.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.