A personal apology to Ryan is probably sufficient to stop the bleeding for Newt in right-wing media this week, but there’s no way he’ll convince conservative voters to trust him on serious deficit reduction measures now. Of all the beatings he’s taken over the past two days, this one from Nikki Haley probably did the most damage. His path to the nomination was always obscure, but a strong showing in South Carolina was essential. It’s right on Georgia’s doorstep so Newt would be counting on something of a home-field advantage. Oh well:

Haley, whose promise to endorse a presidential candidate has made her a key power broker in the Republican primary fight, joined in the chorus Tuesday and said she is “terribly disappointed” in Gingrich.

“What he said was absolutely unfortunate,” Haley told CNN in a phone interview. “Here you’ve got Representative Ryan trying to bring common sense to this world of insanity, and Newt absolutely cut him off at the knees.”

“When you have a conservative fighting for real change, the last thing we need is a presidential candidate cutting him off at the knees,” she added.

The question now isn’t whether he’ll win South Carolina and Georgia, it’s whether he’ll finish ahead of Herman Cain. Three clips for you here to survey the wreckage: The first, via the Right Scoop, is of Ryan describing his chat with Newt to Mark Levin. The second and third, via Greg Hengler and Mediaite respectively, are of Bill Bennett’s excruciating interview with Gingrich this morning and of Rush Limbaugh speculating on Newt’s strategy in attacking Ryan. Limbaugh thinks he’s trying to ingratiate himself with the “ruling class” by purposely antagonizing the right. I think there’s some truth to that, if by “ruling class” we mean centrist Republicans who are leery of tea partiers and their influence, but I still think Gingrich’s basic idea was to pander to seniors and that he badly, badly misjudged the backlash he’d suffer from swiping at Ryan’s budget. Too late now. Click the image to watch.