Mitt Romney has gone from front-runner to running scared in the matter of one week. Newt Gingrich’s dominant win in South Carolina is dangerous to Romney on a number of levels. But most of all what it shows is that Gingrich’s mix of hubris, public policy boldness, and intellect may be exactly what GOP voters are ultimately looking for.
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Put another way, Romney is solid but bland. Gingrich is unpredictable but feisty. Republican voters are definitely in an aggressive mood. They want to send President Obama packing and voters are starting see Gingrich as the guy who can singlehandedly dress down Obama in the debates and go on to a General Election victory.
Exit polls show Gingrich did phenomenally well among evangelicals. They accounted for roughly two-thirds of the electorate and Gingrich won 44 percent of them, compared to Romney (21%) and Santorum (21%). I know the media will scratch their head about this so let me explain briefly why this happened. (I laid out a detailed explanation of this about a month ago. It was entitled, “Why Newt Resonates With Evangelicals.”)
For years, Gingrich has been heavily engaged and involved in important topics that evangelicals care deeply about including (in no particular order) the fight against radical Islam and Sharia law; his stand and articulation of the Judeo-Christian principles that this country was founded on; his promises of pro-life Executive Orders once he reaches The White House; his boldness and lack of political correctness which evangelicals LOVE and his denouncing of liberal judges in America.
Let me also point out that Gingrich speaks about all of these issues in such a unique, historical, artful and compelling way so even though other candidates may share these overall views, Gingrich wraps it up so neatly that evangelicals are treated to a history lesson and leave energized.
It’s crucial to understand that Gingrich is NOT just feeding evangelicals a phony line about all these topics just to get their votes. He truly believes all of this as evident by his years of writing and talking about these topics. He has “street cred” with evangelicals on these issues (By the way, he also won 45 percent of the Tea Party vote and once again he’s got “street cred” with the Tea Party which I will pontificate on in another piece of analysis).
As for Romney, the best news for him out of South Carolina is that Rick Santorum says he’s continuing on to Florida because let’s face, it if this was a two-man race between Romney and Gingrich, numbers don’t lie. Romney would be in SERIOUS trouble.
Romney has been making the case he's the most electable candidate. Well, is that the case? His center-right tendencies definitely make him more attractive to independent voters who will be key in a General Election. He is also highly intelligent and therefore would be a strong match for Obama in the debates.
Finally, he has a strong ground game and wads of money so he'll be able to compete with Obama from that standpoint in a General Election for sure (He also has better hair than Obama). But this idea that he is the most electable isn’t a slam-dunk by any stretch.
Why? He has shown a tendency for making mistakes such as, "I like to fire people.” We've seen slip-ups like this one too many times. Additionally, he's also filthy rich so making his case to the middle class in America will not be easy. And don't forget the media in a General Election will scrutinize his Mormon faith all over again. That’s not something the Romney campaign wants.
As for Rick Santorum, he has run a principled, solid campaign and his message has the potential to resonate around the country. Why didn’t Santorum do better than Gingrich in South Carolina? Beyond the fact that Gingrich is from neighboring Georgia and had great organization here, what’s happening is that Santorum has to somehow get over the hump of being seen as someone with stature and presidential timber.
Romney looks like a president and has the organization to win The White House. Gingrich has the resume and gravitas to do the same. He’s seen as a larger than life figure. Santorum has to somehow show that he belongs with the big boys. It’s not that he hasn’t shown it on the debate stage or with his intellect, but that needs to somehow transfer to voters. Santorum is moving in that direction but he’s got a couple big boys on stage to deal with who have already commanded much of that space.
The Brody file is off to Florida Sunday morning. It’s going to be a wild ride.