Just a week ago, Mitt Romney's lead over Newt Gingrich was 23 points. And now in the wake of the stunning South Carolina Newtmentum result (Romney didn't drop, but Newt surged), Gallup's Sunday national poll tracker puts Romney at 30 and Gingrich at 25.
Hell, his marginal tax rate is probably higher than his lead now. The key South Carolina takeaways, from Sean Trende at Real Clear Politics:
1) There is no good news buried in here for Mitt Romney.Fred Barnes, conservative columnist, says Romney needs a Big Idea. But unlike Barack Obama, who's big idea of One America began at least two years before he ran (with his national introduction speech at the Democratic National Convention), Romney is not coming into this campaign with any big ideas, just his now cracked aura of capability and electability. As Michael Walsh asks at The Corner, "What's the Rationale Now?"
2) This is worse than George W. Bush’s loss to John McCain in New Hampshire.
3) Analysts are kidding themselves if they say Romney is the inevitable nominee.
Now the Gingrich campaign is cocky and energized:
With Newt’s big win tonight, the glaring weakness of Mitt Romney now stands revealed for all to see. Hopefully including Mitt. Because if this wasn’t a wake-up call for Team Romney, he’s a totally hopeless candidate.
All along, I’ve thought he was a pretty hopeless candidate, with too many weaknesses and very few political strengths. Stripped of his Iowa “win,” his record as a candidate is basically 2–4, with wins as Massachusetts governor and, this cycle, in the New Hampshire primary (as a semi-favorite son), but losses to Ted Kennedy, McCain, Rick Santorum, and now Mr. Newt.This loss is a bad one. Not only did he blow a sizable (and, as it turns out, illusory) lead, he finds himself right back where he started this campaign, stuck at around a quarter of the vote. If that’s “electable,” the GOP is in serious trouble.
And Romney is starting to "take the gloves off" on the way to the Florida Primary vote a week from Tuesday:
Kevin Kellems, one of Gingrich's top advisers, said that "Gov. Romney’s campaign is now showing real signs of being off-balance and nervous. There must be a reason for it."
When asked for specific signs of anxiety in the Romney campaign, Kellems responded by email, "among others, Gov. Romney's inability to answer basic questions about his taxes without bouncing around the podium like an overcaffeinated high-schooler being put on the spot by his parents."
Newt's crowd is a bit more...Confederate. At last night's victory speech:
He called Gingrich a “failed leader” as Speaker who “had to resign in disgrace” and criticized his work as a highly paid consultant for Freddie Mac in his years out of office. “He said he was just a historian there,” Romney said. “I’d like him to release his records there.”
For frustrated Romney fans, the Newt attacks couldn’t come soon enough.
“Tell it it to him in the debates!” one person shouted as Romney began his attack monologue.“Take the gloves off, Mitt!” another hollered.
Newt: ...Just think about how radical he would be in a second term.What's going on here is that Romney is a politician of a Republican mode that doesn't really exist anymore, trying to run as the type of Republican which has ascended ever since Reagan was elected - the Southern Convervative Republican. George W. Bush, with all his time in Texas, could play it; Romney cannot. On one hand, he really believes all the lies and trash he spew, in which case he's really no better than Newt. On the other, he's saying what he thinks he needs to say to win, which means he's untrustworthy and, in essence, following rather than leading.
Audience: No more years!
Newt: So I have a proposal (interrupted)
Audience: No more years!
Audience: String him up!
My only word of caution to those on the Left who are gleeful at the prospect of a Gingrich nomination, be careful what you wish for because that does put him atop one of the two major U.S. political parties, meaning there's still a chance he could be our next President, i.e. in the case of a disaster.
On the other hand, as I don't see Romney having the same core integrity Obama has in 2008 during his long bout with Hillary Clinton for the nomination, I don't think the long Primary process benefits him. It keeps him from being able to pivot early enough to more centrist rhetoric and tarnishes him with working class Americans due to the nature of the attacks.
Aside from his fundamental problems as a candidate, Romney's side may have made a fatal error when their SuperPAC went hard after Gingrich in Iowa TV ads. Not only did Romney turn out not to win Iowa (when the dust cleared), it made Newt change his rhetoric from "speak no ill of a fellow Republican" a la Reagan's 11th Commandment to total attack.
And that's the one thing Newton Leroy knows how to do.