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Why S.C. matters…

21 Jan

Reader over at Sullydish questioned the impact of a Gingrich win in South Carolina:

Maybe I’ll feel differently when the SC vote actually comes in, and Mitt loses badly, but I cannot shake the feeling that South Carolina is so different than the rest of the country.  You Lie, pride in treason, hit pieces using John McCain’s children, etc–these are things that play well there.  Surely, the rest of the country is more like Iowa and New Hampshire (where Newt placed fourth), than SC.  Right?  The South doesn’t vote again until Super Tuesday, March 6th.  Nine states take the stage in between.  Sure, Romney could lose, but let a little time pass after this SC politico blood frenzy, and I think Newt ends up a footnote in the Romney nomination story. Right?  Gingrich. Really?

Here’s why I think he’s wrong:

The reason the South Carolina Republican primary matters is because South Carolina represents the Republican base. Plain and simple. When John McCain lost to George W. Bush there in 2000, it was over for McCain. When McCain won the state in 2008, it was a symbolic (though tentative) embrace by the base.

Romney’s collapse is reminiscent of Hillary Clinton’s in 2008. A South Carolina rout set off a steady decline for her and I think it will for Romney. Clinton was not prepared for a long-game campaign. I’m not sure if Romney is, either. Clinton at least was able to slightly regroup and alter her “inevitability” campaign to one of “seasoned experience” vs “naive inexperience” (turning Barack Obama’s big selling point of “hope and change” against him). She started to play the underdog, the one that the media had turned on in favor of Obama. She also sank to coded speak about Obama’s chances in the general election (“Really, guys? You’re gonna put the black guy up against McCain? We have a chance to win this thing. Don’t squander it.”).

Romney can do none of this. His entire campaign was based on electability and his business background. The former is harder to push when you’re one for three, and the latter has turned into a source of embarrassment. A candidate no one really likes but sort of tolerates because he can beat their Kenyan Muslim Socialist Bogeyman is quickly abandoned if there are other options. And Iowa and South Carolina have been about those other options.

I’ve long believed that Gingrich would have a better chance of defeating Obama than Romney or any of the other sideshow candidates. Gingrich has a history of winning. Romney does not. You can point to Gingrich’s collapse as Speaker but what he accomplished in 1994 is still impressive. Gingrich is a far savvier campaigner and politician. His famous lack of shame allows him to co-opt the success of the 1990s. He can evoke that period, which voters remember with fondness, while Romney can only make vague proclamations about how his business acumen will help him get the economy running again.

I think conservative voters also realize that the United States is not a business. They also recognize the gridlock in Washington and know that a Republican president might have to deal with a Democratic Senate or possibly House. Success in politics requires a skilled politician. It’s better for the GOP that Gingrich remind voters of this now rather than have Obama do it later in the general election.

I’m not impressed by Romney’s “traditional” politics. Better organization is what allowed Obama to win Iowa, to close in on Clinton in New Hampshire and win South Carolina. It allowed him to outfight Clinton “rope-a-dope” style. Romney’s “organization” resulted in his losing Iowa to a guy with a “Google” problem and losing South Carolina to a guy with enough wives to form a rock band (“Newt & the Exes” will play at the 40 Watt Club in Athens next month).

The assertion that Romney is the most electable Republican makes me almost believe there’s a liberal media bias. This belief is based in the notion that independent swing voters will choose a moderate. It arrogantly presumes that independent voters are more inclined to vote for someone like the Democrat but with a different tie. History, of course, has yet to bear that out: McCain lost in 2008, Dole lost in 1996, and Bush lost in 1992. This is the fate of Republican candidates who Democrats “sort of” like — and Romney can’t even claim that.

No, Gingrich reminds me of George W. Bush: Someone most conservatives like and most on the left hate. Remember that U.S. voters elected Bush twice (well, at least once).

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2012 in Political Theatre

 

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