Bright young Brit Tim Stanley reports on the ground from South Carolina and very convincingly argues that Newt Gingrich didn't win the primary.
Willard Romney lost it.
Newt Gingrich will deny it, but the South Carolina vote was really a referendum on Romney. He lost it because he is slipping in the area that was previously his one selling point: electability. The Bain mess and his absent tax returns were compounded by the overturning of his “victory” in Iowa. Without the illusion of being unbeatable, there is no reason for conservatives to vote for Romney. Crucially, they told exit pollers that they now believe Newt is more likely to win against Obama than Mitt in November. That’s an illusion, too. But when you hate someone as much as some sections of the Tea Party hate Romney, you don’t see them as they really are. Poor Romney has become, unfairly, a stand in for all the elitism and bad faith of the Republican establishment. He has a tough fight ahead.
What can Romney do? How can he connect with the public? Election experts agree that he remains the best-funded, least offensive, and most-likely-to-succeed candidate for the GOP.
But like Richard Nixon, no one seems to actually like the guy. He needs to show something human that people can latch on to and trust emotionally. Hell, even Richard Nixon had to do that.
In the South Carolina debates, Gingrich successfully turned attacks on his character into attacks on the press, and more importantly, in doing so connected with the audience. They thrilled at his fiery attack on "elites" -- meaning the likes of handsome, well-paid, well-educated, intelligent questioner John King.
(Curiously, in his looks John King is almost exactly as stolid and Ken-like as Mitt Romney.In a dramatic sense, they are worthy if slow-moving opponents, in an Megatron vs. Optimus Prime sort of way. And as mentioned below, Prime got a terrific shot in on Megatron in the last battle over Megatron's income tax returns.)
Richard Nixon had a somewhat similar problem, when he was running for Governor of California in the early 60's. People just didn't like him. After a bad loss, he lashed out at his famous "last press conference." In true bitterness he said:
"You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentleman, this is my last press conference."
In a practised, familiar, move, Newt Gingrich turned his negative into a positive, by blaming the press for his situation. Will Romney try something similar?
Surely it's too late to play "me too" -- Newt's all but patented that move.
Maybe he'll find a way to tug at the heartstrings, such as Richard Nixon's infamous Checkers speech?
No -- no one can pity the billionaire unable to buy his wife the coat she wants.
Romney has been accused of being Nixonian -- by his neighbors, in fact. According to a story in the New York Review of Books:
When I ask locals about their impressions of Mitt, I get a recurring response: Nixonian. “The overriding passion of his life seems to be to become president,” a conservative economics professor tells me. “I can’t think of a single issue over which Romney would risk reelection in order to stick to a principle.” A University of Massachusetts journalism professor puts it more positively: “He can be as cagey as Nixon, and he can be almost as smarmy, but he is also able to think strategically.”
Romney may be able to think strategically, but can he act strategically?
That appears to be his challenge. Can he pick up the mantle of Reagan -- or at least, Nixon -- and make some sort of emotional connection with the electorate?
What are the chances? Hasn't managed it yet, near as I can tell.