The Romney collapse
The South Carolina primary is being characterized as a stunning upset, with pundits registering amazement at the fall of Mitt Romney from a double-digit frontrunner in polls a week ago, to a distant second, by a double digit margin, losing 44 of the Palmetto State's 46 counties, and nearly all demographic slices. Once proclaimed inevitable, because of his money and organization advantage, Mitt Romney's campaign is faltering. Part of the problem lies in Mitt's muffing the question of releasing his tax returns in two consecutive debates, an inexplicable failure in preparation for an easily-anticipated issue. Twice!
But part of the reason so many pundits are shocked is that the old rules are changing in the face of the frequent media-sponsored debates and the rise of the intrernet and social media.
Byron York of the DC Examiner:
...all the talk about Romney having a hugely superior ground organization turned out not to be true. "They did not do the retail politics that a Santorum and a Gingrich have done over time," said Kevin Thomas, chairman of the Fairfield County Republican Party. (Thomas was neutral in the race.) "I think Newt's people, they had more on-the-ground staff, and they worked." There were a lot of them, too; after Gingrich's strong showing in the debates, said Susan Meyers, Gingrich's media coordinator for the Southeast, "We have so many volunteers, our phones are melting right now."
Gingrich's campaign was also faster and more nimble than the Romney battleship. "There is a very strong contrast between the two campaign organizations," said Gingrich adviser (and former George W. Bush administration official) Kevin Kellems. "In military terms, it's speed versus mass. Newt Gingrich's operation, and Newt Gingrich as a man, has a great deal of speed -- intellectual speed, decisiveness. The Romney campaign is much more about money and size, having hired half of Washington D.C. And sometimes, speed beats mass." (snip)
Romney stages perfect events.... perfect in every sense but engaging with the voters....clipped -- some would say dumbed down -- list of generalities, concluding with this: "I love this land, I love its Constitution, I revere its founders, I will restore those principles, I will get America back to work, and I'll make sure that we remain the shining city on the hill."
Michael Walsh of NRO
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.
The traditional political experts, who look at positions, voter demographics, and political organization, still proclaim Romney the most electable. They are mostly puzzled by the anyone-but-Romney phenomenon. Many are alarmed by the thought that Newt Gingrich could get the nomination and drag down the entire party, handing a second term and control of Congress to Obama, a "suicide march," in Charles Krauthammer's term.
Gingrich has burned a lot of bridges, and still carries not just baggage, but what one pundit on Fox News called "freight." It does not take very long to assemble a list of sins Newt has committed, from taking both sides of an issue, to enriching himself with Freddie Mac money and buying lavish amounts of jewelry. The treasure trove of opposition research available that could alienate Newt from a majority of voters must be admitted to be substantial, even by his partisans.
Randall Hoven tweeted: "Enjoy the spectacle, folks. Because that's what it is. No good will come of this. Just enjoy the show. Like watching yourself be eaten." John Ziegler of Newtcantwin.com penned a bitterly sarcastic pseudo-endorsement of Newt, finally pretending to see the light.
Charles Hurt of the Washington Times points to the underlying psychodrama that characterizes the interactions of the GOP with the media and party elites.
Most of all, it is the media that voters despise and they cast their votes just to keep Mr. Gingrich's relentless beatings of the media going on for as long as possible. The spurious claims made against the former House speaker by his ex-wife not only didn't hurt him, they actually helped him. Because a vote for him was a vote against the media that gave such voice to her aspersions.
So, it is hardly surprising that after a weeklong soap opera, it is the king of drama who emerged the victor after delivering
So the two GOP frontrunners are both being seen as seriously flawed. Ron Fournier of National Journal put it bluntly:
Can either of these jokers beat President Obama? (italics in original)
More and more GOP partisans are pondering the possibility that none of the remaining four candidates in the field is well-positioned to win. William Kristol:
Two months ago, I wrote an editorial headlined "Evitable." The subhead captured the thrust of the piece: "It might not be Mitt. It could be Newt. It could be someone else."
The editorial concluded:
"Or, if Iowa (January 3), New Hampshire (January 10) and South Carolina (January 21) produce fragmented results, and the state of the race is disheartening to Republicans, a late January entry [I'd now say an early February entry] by another candidate isn't out of the question, either . . .
"With a splintered field in a turbulent time in an Internet age, there are more possible outcomes in today's politics than are dreamt of in the philosophy of inevitability."
I notice a new online petition was launched Saturday night to try to produce one possible outcome. It's at runmitchrun.com.
Sarah Palin's recommendation of a vote for Newt to keep the process going may well fall into the same category of hoping for a deadlocked convention bringing new blood, someone who opted out of the bruising primary process.
If this year really is different, perhaps this is not a pipe dream.