South Carolina changed everything. After what seemed to be a first place finish in Iowa and what was a solid victory in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney’s path to the nomination was looking like a cake walk. However, a recount in Iowa showed that Rick Santorum actually won, and Newt Gingrich emerged in a big way in South Carolina after less than stellar showings in the first two primaries.
Gingrich had been propelled by his strong showing in the debates leading up to the South Carolina primary. This along with miscues by Romney helped to cause a major upset. Especially considering how Romney was leading by over ten points in some polls only a few days before the primary.
I think the results of the South Carolina primary show the strong anti-Romney sentiment that is present in the GOP, especially among the base. Regardless of how far Romney far Romney moves to the right, it isn’t going to work. All it will do is highlight how Romney fails to stay consistent and hurt him among independents.
Anti-Romney conservatives have now begun to throw their support and resources heavily behind Gingrich in response to recent events. There has also been a large degree of pushback by many in the GOP establishments who feel that Newt Gingrich is not electable and would lose in a general election race to President Obama. Personally, I’m inclined to agree with them.
The next GOP primary is Florida. If Romney loses Florida, I would expect his campaign to be in full-blown crisis mode, especially since an average of major polls, compiled by Real Clear Politics, shows him up by seven points.
Romney, however, has gotten a slight boost in recent days as the spotlight has shifted to Newt, especially with regards to his ethics. Various conservative media sources have unearthed negative comments by Newt from the 1980s about Reagan which paint the opposite picture that Newt has tried to portray. There rarely goes by a debate or speech that Newt doesn’t mention Reagan somewhere or how important Newt was to Reagan’s success.
One of Gingrich’s biggest problems is himself. His temper and attitude are likely going to end up hurting him if he goes for the long haul. What’s more, he has enough personal baggage to fill an airport.
Another of Gingrich’s problems is money. Despite recent successes, Gingrich has not been able to capitalize on it due to the lack of funds. If Gingrich is going to stay in this race for the long haul against the Romney machine, he’s going to need a large influx of money.
Rick Santorum placed third in South Carolina after a disappointing fourth place in New Hampshire. With conservative voters turning to Newt, Santorum will be left with no real support outside of some social conservatives. Though, it is worth noting that he did finish ahead of Gingrich in both Iowa and New Hampshire.
For now, Santorum’s biggest problem is that he’s a social values candidate running in a race where the economy and foreign policy is King. His time in Congress, where he didn’t always take the most conservative positions, such his vote for a federal right-to-work law, likely hurts him among some voters. There’s also the problem of electability if he were to make it to the general election due to some of the extreme positions he has taken.
Santorum also has had a strong disadvantage due to only becoming a top-tier candidate right before the Iowa primary. The campaign’s organization or pockets are not nearly as deep as Romney and that certainly is hurting him. Santorum’s best hope at the moment is hoping for the strong anti-Romney sentiment to continue and a meltdown by Gingrich.
Ron Paul also continues to stay in the race after a fourth, last, place finish in South Carolina. Paul’s problem always has been that he’s a Libertarian running in a Republican primary. This creates a ceiling on the level of support he garners; currently it seems to be about 15 percent.
The Paul campaign strategy at this point is skipping states with primaries like Florida and instead focusing on states with caucuses. This strategy will help Paul maximize his amount of delegates at the convention; however, he will likely come nowhere close to winning the nomination. His best hope is having enough delegates in order to make an impact at the convention. In other words, he could be a kingmaker if he plays his cards right.
All in all, the biggest winner of this long, drawn-out primary is President Obama. Polls already show him winning in a “what if” general election matchup of all four GOP candidates and that isn’t likely to change.