Mitt Romney: evitable?

posted at 11:15 am on January 22, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

After leading in polling in South Carolina for the last couple of weeks, Mitt Romney got badly beaten in the Palmetto State by Newt Gingrich yesterday, wh was fueled by two dynamic debate performances, especially with a big attack on the national media in the second.  The scope of the defeat — by 12-13 points — left Romney with no delegates from this primary [see update II], as Gingrich won every Congressional district in the state.  Sarah Palin called Newt Gingrich the new front-runner, and while that’s an understandable spot reaction, it’s a stretch at best.

Gingrich did a terrific job in South Carolina.  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.  Florida comes next, and it has a lot more delegates at stake.  It’s less conservative than South Carolina, and it’s a much bigger state geographically as well as in population.  Romney has a much stronger organization in Florida than Gingrich or anyone else; Ron Paul won’t even contest it, he announced last night.  At least 200,000 ballots have already been cast in Florida, which will give Romney a big boost.  Furthermore, the emotional peak in South Carolina that fueled Gingrich’s rise will dissipate quickly in Florida, unless another big controversy arises that gives Gingrich an opportunity to blast the media, and Romney belatedly moved to defuse the tax-return issue this morning.  At that point, voters in more moderate Florida will go back to looking at Gingrich’s record and his past, which is what killed his last boomlet in mid-December.

The schedule is another big problem for Gingrich.  First, as Gingrich even mentioned in his victory speech last night, his campaign coffers aren’t exactly overflowing at the moment, and the pace is about to change.  The week after Florida, five states have primaries or caucuses (two of which are non-binding), and the lack of resources will make it difficult for Gingrich to compete simultaneously.  Three weeks later, Arizona and Michigan hold their primaries on the same day, which means that Gingrich will probably only be able to energetically compete in one of those two states, and Michigan is already Romney country.  The very next week, ten states hold their contests, including Gingrich’s home state of Virginia, where Gingrich’s lack of organization resulted in failure to make the ballot.  Romney’s big advantage in organization hasn’t even begun to play out in this race, but it’s going to be huge in February and March.

That doesn’t mean Romney has it sewn up, either.  Instead of Florida being a coronation, it’s now a survival state for Romney.  Losing South Carolina will undermine confidence in Romney’s ability to close the deal, especially by getting beaten so badly by Gingrich, who was third in polling two weeks ago and finished fourth and fifth in Iowa and New Hampshire, respectively.  If Romney struggles in Florida, Gingrich might not need a lot of organization in the following couple of weeks to start winning races, no matter how many resources Romney throws at those states.  Adam Smith reminds us that Romney outspent and outorganized John McCain in 2008 in Florida and still lost the state after losing South Carolina, but Romney had also lost New Hampshire to McCain.

The biggest outcome from yesterday is that Mitt Romney looks surprisingly evitable, while Newt Gingrich looks surprisingly credible.  The odds are still stacked against a long-shot Gingrich, but he’s no longer a no-shot candidate.

Update: Sean Trende gives Romney a 35% chance of losing the nomination, and offers this warning to Romney:

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.

That’s not to say that Romney’s money and organization don’t give him advantages — they do. He remains the GOP front-runner, in my view, because it isn’t clear how well Gingrich can survive the long haul. But there’s a not-insubstantial chance, call it 35 percent, that Romney won’t be the nominee.

Poor organization can be fixed, although it’s still pretty unclear whether Gingrich himself can do that.  A poorly-performing candidate is tougher to fix, but also not impossible.

Update II: Actually, Romney ended up with two of the 25 delegates from South Carolina.

Update III: My description of Trende’s odds-making was inaccurate.  He didn’t say Gingrich had a 35% chance of winning the nomination, but that Romney had a 35% chance of losing it.   At the moment, that sounds like the same thing, but it’s not exactly what Sean said.  I’ve changed it above.


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Anyone who thinks Newt is going to run over President Obama in a debate had better think twice. Newt will be Sonny Liston and Obama will be Cassius Clay.

chumpThreads on January 23, 2012 at 7:53 AM

Mark Steyn at his best on Romney’s problem:

“…
And where, among all the dough he’s handing out, is the rapid-response team? Newt’s “spontaneous” indignation at John King was carefully crafted by Gingrich himself. By contrast, Mitt has a ton of consultants, and not one of them thought he needed a credible answer on Bain or taxes? For a guy running as a chief exec applying proven private-sector solutions, his campaign looks awfully like an unreformable government bureaucracy: big, bloated, overstaffed, burning money, slow to react, and all but impossible to change. …”

http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/288873/man-who-gave-us-newt-mark-steyn

SoldiersMom on January 23, 2012 at 7:59 AM

Newt will be exposed for the monster he truly is, over the weeks and months ahead. We will see what you Newtmaniacs have to say for yourselves after he is exposed and is thought of as the worst political leper of all time. It WIll happen.

jibjab75 on January 23, 2012 at 7:29 AM

Darn right. Let’s get ready to rumble!

Romney is going to win this fight. It’s on.

We will not throw away our chance of defeating Obama, which is exactly what nominating Newt Gingrich would be… nominating Newt would would be handing Obama a landslide victory after a campaign when Obama wouldn’t even have to break a sweat.

The latest published FL poll shows Gingrich with a small lead over Romney, but many are still undecided. Romney will win the late-deciders this time around in FL.

Last week saw things go very badly for Romney and very well for Gingrich. Don’t expect a repeat this week. Newt has had his little moment in the sun (and probably will for a few days more), but the story will change again by next week.

Romney is the guy who can actually beat Obama. FL voters are going to reject that pompous Freddie Mac lobbyist Newt Gingrich and his snooty open-marriage-wanting-mistress-turned-wife Callista!

bluegill on January 23, 2012 at 8:08 AM

Newt will be exposed for the monster he truly is, over the weeks and months ahead. We will see what you Newtmaniacs have to say for yourselves after he is exposed and is thought of as the worst political leper of all time. It WIll happen.

jibjab75 on January 23, 2012 at 7:29 AM
See? Brilliant strategy from the Romney team.
Don’t try to attract the base to their man, just slime the other. Newt is saying what Conservatives want to hear. Mittens might try it

Yup. This could work to Newt’s advantage, put a stake in Willard’s heart, come on Florida, trounce Mittens!

insidiator on January 23, 2012 at 8:11 AM

Mitt is saying all the right things, and means them…you just are not willing to listen. He is for repealing obamacare, cutting the size of federal government, working our way to a ballanced budget, stregthening our military, making proamerican frade negotiations with China a reality instead of crippling our ability to compete. I could go on, but why bother when your unwilling to listen. Just go ahead and follow Newt off the cliff and insure Obama four more years.

jibjab75 on January 23, 2012 at 8:11 AM

MTLassen and jibjab75 will not be returning … ever. Trolling, threats, and allusions to sexual assault will not be tolerated. Period. Argue the point, don’t toss personal insults and threaten people, or find someplace else to comment.

Ed Morrissey on January 23, 2012 at 8:24 AM

I have had a scary thought this morning. What if this is 1980 all over again and Newt Gingrich is Ronald Reagan, able to tap into a deep enough well of anger amongst white working class voters to actually win the whole thing?

libfreeordie on January 23, 2012 at 8:31 AM

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I for one, am not going to let South Carolina dictate my vote.

scotash on January 23, 2012 at 8:33 AM

Anyone who thinks Newt is going to run over President Obama in a debate had better think twice. Newt will be Sonny Liston and Obama will be Cassius Clay.
chumpThreads on January 23, 2012 at 7:53 AM

Mitt is saying all the right things, and means them…you just are not willing to listen. He is for repealing obamacare, cutting the size of federal government, working our way to a ballanced budget, stregthening our military, making proamerican frade negotiations with China a reality instead of crippling our ability to compete. I could go on, but why bother when your unwilling to listen. Just go ahead and follow Newt off the cliff and insure Obama four more years.

This is not about Newt. it’s about the republican establishment trying to ram another RINO (e.g. McCain, Bush, Dole) down conservatives’ throats. A Newt was inevitable with the advent of the tea party – and all you Romney supporters need to understand that it is you who are marginalized (hello, wake up, SC has spoken), in much the same way as Black (96% of which voted for Obama) and Jewish (80% of which voted for Obama) voters are marginalized. Your vote is guaranteed no matter who the republican establishment chooses. You have no core principles always settling form the lesser of two evils. Pragmatism is your religion. For others, pragmatism is fine, but only to a point. Others are compelled to draw a line in the sand. And lest you make an idiot of yourself by commenting how childish this tact is – $17,000,000,000.00 dollar debt says STFU and reconsider your “pragmatic” approach.

noeastern on January 23, 2012 at 8:44 AM

MTLassen and jibjab75 will not be returning … ever. Trolling, threats, and allusions to sexual assault will not be tolerated. Period. Argue the point, don’t toss personal insults and threaten people, or find someplace else to comment.

Ed Morrissey on January 23, 2012 at 8:24 AM

Thank you Ed. A well moderated forum keeps real ideas flowing and keeps people like me returning to check things out.

Difficultas_Est_Imperium on January 23, 2012 at 8:45 AM

Mitt is saying all the right things, and means them…you just are not willing to listen. He is for repealing obamacare, cutting the size of federal government, working our way to a ballanced budget, stregthening our military, making proamerican frade negotiations with China a reality instead of crippling our ability to compete. I could go on, but why bother when your unwilling to listen. Just go ahead and follow Newt off the cliff and insure Obama four more years.

jibjab75 on January 23, 2012 at 8:11 AM

Yeah, Perry was saying all the right things (when he was coherent), doesn’t always get you very far.

Mitt needs to talk about why he wants to change things, why this Republic is in peril, what is the guiding star–he needs to talk CONSERVATISM (if he believes in it).

Somebody please send Mitt a copy of “Liberty and Tyranny” and “Ameritopia”.

mockmook on January 23, 2012 at 8:54 AM

The latest published FL poll shows Gingrich with a small lead over Romney, but many are still undecided. Romney will win the late-deciders this time around in FL.

Last week saw things go very badly for Romney and very well for Gingrich. Don’t expect a repeat this week. Newt has had his little moment in the sun (and probably will for a few days more), but the story will change again by next week.

Romney is the guy who can actually beat Obama. FL voters are going to reject that pompous Freddie Mac lobbyist Newt Gingrich and his snooty open-marriage-wanting-mistress-turned-wife Callista!

bluegill on January 23, 2012 at 8:08 AM

Oh, well, gee whiz kids. Blueshmuck who told SC voters last couple of weeks that they were worthless and idiots and to get in line etc. etc. (I won’t mention the rest of the Mormons who mocked Jesus, the Shroud of Turin and pastors), finds out that people don’t like being treated like sheeple. And if you don’t agree with her/him/it, you are stupid. From the incompetency coming from the Romney camp, looks like these official spokespeople need to take some basic advise: calling names and telling people you’re not needed and you’d better not ask for anything when their guy becomes the greatest president evah….yada, yada, yada.

Doesn’t work and could be the reason some of us spread out on local networks, blogs, and talked to friends about Romney who looks really weak and really arrogant.

Portia46 on January 23, 2012 at 9:25 AM

Oh, yeah, I forgot….Newt supporters don’t care about that family values stuff.

Priscilla on January 22, 2012 at 8:38 PM
They REALLY don’t, Priscilla….that is obvious…justv like they really don’t care about all the other baggage….Federal mandate, Nancy Pelosi, Freddie/Fannie,…..and on and on,,,,,and on.

jibjab75 on January 22, 2012 at 8:42 PM

Some of them believe in redemption. A Judao-Christian concept. And are you REALLY bringing up mandates? Newt admits to mistakes which is pretty much the human condition. Mitt is still defending mandates for heaven’s sake. He says it’s a “state” right…which leads me to ask, “which other amendments does the 10th amendment trump?”

Sitting on a couch with Nancy Pelosi is a non-issue. Supporting abortion is a bit more problematic–seriously. How can someone who claims superior morality support infanticide? Newt never lobbyed. Lying is a much worse character flaw than making a human error in personal relationships.

And at least Newt never tied his ex-wives to the top of his car.

Portia46 on January 23, 2012 at 9:40 AM

Thank you, Ed!

kingsjester on January 23, 2012 at 9:48 AM

MTLassen and jibjab75 will not be returning … ever. Trolling, threats, and allusions to sexual assault will not be tolerated. Period. Argue the point, don’t toss personal insults and threaten people, or find someplace else to comment.

Ed Morrissey on January 23, 2012 at 8:24 AM

Whatd I miss??

Mimzey on January 23, 2012 at 10:28 AM

I was very disappointed in the results of South Carolina because IMHO Romney is the only Republican candidate that can beat Obama. I also did not want this to go on too long so Romney and the other candidates will bloody themselves and expend all of their resources in the Primary and not have the funds in the general to challenge Obama.

However, if someone like Newt can bring down Romney then he does not deserve the nomination. Romney needs to get off defense and his trying to “make no mistakes” campaign. Go on offense. Make the case for capitalism, defend what Bain does,Tell everyone the risks that he has taken with his hard earned money that invested in Staples, Sports Authority etc creating jobs for americans and improving the economy, Turning around the Winter Games. In the end, Gingrich will have done Romney a huge favor by making him tougher and airing these issues before the general.

Natebo on January 23, 2012 at 11:21 AM

Polls show that all news media (this includes FOX) show the highest negative media stories for Romney versus any other R Candidate. Yet, somehow, the comments in past week and her seem to think that the voters are bucking the media or whatever conspiracy theory.

Truth be told the most negatives in 3 months of news media stories have been against Romney. Especially, from the alphabet media. To me the media fears Romney as the candidate the numbers back it up (Gallup Poll most negative vs. most positive media stories).

All be warned, if Newt or Santorum is the nominee you Rs have handed Obama his second term. I am an independent. I have been politically savvy for many years. The truth be told Newt is not a true conservative, but he is a good snake oil salesman. He has never governed and he has never implemented a policy or plan in his live. I do not want to hear about the ‘balanced budget’ as that is false, it is the typical legislative accounting gimmickry these big government Rs have been pushing for over 30 years (Newt is in that crowd and so is Santorum). There never was a Clinton surplus and/or Newt’s balanced budget. It is accounting gimmickry that a Business would go to jail for and yet our government has been cooking the books for decades with these two Newt and Santorum heavily involved in the legislative book cook.

Folks, you are deceived if you think that Newt will accomplish anything other than a speech. Sound familiar?

uhangtight on January 23, 2012 at 1:34 PM

uhangtight on January 23, 2012 at 1:34 PM

You should just ban yourself if that is the best argument you have.

astonerii on January 23, 2012 at 7:08 PM

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