Newt Gingrich handily won the GOP South Carolina primary earlier today, with 41% of the vote to Romney’s 27%, followed by Santorum at 17% and Ron Paul at 13%. Gingrich’s late surge to victory was unthinkable even a week ago. How did he do it? How did he come from being a distant third to dominate the election, winning almost every county in the state? And what does this foretell for the rest of the primary campaign?
The reason for Newt’s victory is simply this: he has convinced the TEA Party faction of the GOP, those voters who are deeply concerned about the steep trajectory of our national debt and deficit spending, who are frustrated with the ever-increasing intrusion of government in terms of laws and regulation and their effect on every facet of American life from what we eat and drink to the type of light bulb, automobile, or health insurance we can (or must) buy, that he is the candidate who understands and respects their concerns. More important, he will do something to alleviate those concerns.
Newt has always been a policy wonk; someone who understands the intricacies of the interactions between government, industry, and the economy, and while voters respect him for his acumen that is not what has swung them over. After all, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are also smart fellows with considerable depth and breadth of knowledge about government and business. However, Newt does stand apart from the other candidates in his ability to marshall all of the facts and data to support his positions. That command of the facts gives Gingrich a confidence in the correctness of his answers that really comes across. Newt believes because he demonstrably knows.
That confidence is the reason why Newt won; not only can he unabashedly state his positions, but he can do so in a logical and straightforward way that is as instructive to his audience as it is persuasive. Newt’s decades of teaching experience is a key part of his ability to effectively communicate his positions, ideas, and vision… and that is something no other GOP candidate has. In uncertain times leaders who are intelligent, persuasive, informed, and confident are compelling to voters.
What happens next? I believed (and still do believe) that the SC primary outcome was a decisive inflection point for the GOP nomination battle. Here are my predictions:
- Rick Santorum’s crushing defeats in New Hampshire and South Carolina effectively ended any chance he has for the nomination; barring a blow-up by Newt Gingrich before the Florida primary that allows Santorum to step up and assume the mantle of the anti-Rommey, he will go down to another resounding defeat in the Sunshine State and end his campaign shortly thereafter… and he will endorse Newt (you read it here first!).
- Ron Paul, the irascible grandfather figure in the race, has been, is, and will be a non-entity, fading away before the convention even if he doesn’t drop out. Paul is right about many things, and especially right on the goals, but he is way off on the ways to accomplish his goal. Ron will not endorse any other candidate, before, during, or after the convention, but he also won’t run as a third-party candidate because doing so would end his son’s political career.
- Mitt Romney, the all-but-inevitable candidate as late as last weekend has suddenly morphed into the candidate who has lost two out of the last three primaries. All of the air has gone out of his sails at exactly the moment Newt’s sails have been filled; the shift of momentum couldn’t have come at a worse time. Romney will never get the momentum back because he is lacking confidence in his positions -- the fundamental quality that voters are looking for -- and he no longer has the lock on electability. I expect Romney’s campaign and his Super PACs to go relentlessly after Gingrich, and I expect those efforts to look increasingly desperate and irrelevant. Romney will fight on until Super Tuesday, but it will all be over by the end of February, because the only candidate who will benefit from any Gingrich stumbles will be Santorum… and Gingrich isn’t going to stumble.
- Newt Gingrich has gotten up from the second standing eight-count of his campaign, and he will not get knocked down again. He has taken everything his opponents and the media have thrown at him and has bounced back. The collapse of the ABC News efforts to use his wife’s allegations to torpedo him just before the South Carolina primary have insulated him from further attacks against his character based upon events in his marriages, and the Romney campaign’s attempts to use the politically-motivated Ethics Committee report against him will hurt Romney more than Gingrich. Newt will win in Florida and will end up getting the majority of delegates well before the convention. He will be the 2012 GOP Republican presidential candidate… and he will win convincingly against Barack Obama much as Reagan thrashed Jimmy Carter.
So, in short Gingrich won because most GOP voters love what he says, how he says it, and believe he could beat Barack Obama in the presidential election… and there’s nothing that any other GOP candidate can do to change this.