As Julius Caesar once described all Gaul as divided into three parts, so too is the Republican Party after the South Carolina primary. And while both Caesar and Mitt Romney aimed to come, see, and conquer their respective territories, it was Newt Gingrich who crossed the political Rubicon and inserted uncertainty into the GOP primary process by winning in South Carolina.
Face it, Mr. Inevitable is still in trouble. Seven days ago Romney was the winner in Iowa and New Hampshire and he was cruising to a double-digit lead in South Carolina. A win there would have probably cemented the nomination for him. But then the sky fell in. Santorum is certified the winner in Iowa by a nose and now Romney’s 25% second place finish does not look so good–placing him exactly where he was four years ago. Yes he does win NH but he was supposed to, as he did in 2008.
Then there were all the missteps about economics. That he payed about 15% income taxes, and that he did not make much in speaking fees–only about seven times the average household income in America. Then Gingrich unleashed his attack on him and vulture capitalism (far better than any offered by Obama or the liberals excluding Dennis Kucinich and Bernie Sanders) in a state where economic unease is high. It also did not hurt that Gingrich played the race card in SC by talking about welfare. Top that off with Romney playing it safe in the two debates while Gingrich did to him what Rome did to Hannibal, and the sack of Mitt was complete.
The Republican Party is clearly divided into three parts. Santorum wins the evangelical midwest, Romney the business northeast, and Gingrich the racially divided south. These are the three bases of the Republican Party with Paul representing a fourth libertarian wing that is mostly outside of the party as it is composed of students anti-war activists, and libertarians, not your normal GOP fare. There is no real sign that the party is coalescing around one candidate–at least not Romney. Instead, if anything, the momentum may be shifting to Gingrich.
Gingrich won big in SC. Exit polls show that he won evangelicals and non-evangelicals, TEA partiers and none, and he won among those who felt economically insecure and with those whose main aim was to beat Obama. Romney did well with moderates–all three of them living in Charleston. Gingrich’s marriage issues did not seem to matter (I presume the swinger vote went for him) and CNN’s opening and predictable question in the Thursday’s debate about it gave Newt the perfect opportunity to bash the media and score points. Endorsements by Rick Perry and Sarah Palin (along with Chuck Norris) in South Carolina portend that he might be the frontrunner now.
Mitt still can point to money, organization, and polls in Florida, but one should not count on that. Mitt underwent a double-digit collapse in SC in one week and nothing prevents the same by January 31. But South Carolina is also a perfect bellwether–since 1980, every GOP winner of its primary has eventually received the party nomination. Four years ago SC stopped Mitt’s presidential prospects and the same seems to be a possibility today. I can only imagine Romney last night muttering “Et tu Newt?”