For the past few months we’ve been hearing a lot in the mainstream media about the demise of the Tea Party and conservative Republicans in general. After their triumph in 2010 the Tea Party’s influence was supposed to have peaked last summer during the debt ceiling crisis. The failure of presidential candidates who openly identified with the movement such as Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Perry was seen as evidence of their not being able to even influence the GOP. But yesterday’s big victory in the South Carolina primary by Newt Gingrich is a clear indication that conservatives are still calling the tune in the Republican Party and anyone who thinks their concerns can be ignored or swept to the side is mistaken.
Gingrich won because, unlike Mitt Romney, he was able to tap into the genuine anger that conservatives in this country feel for President Obama and his cheerleaders in the liberal media echo chamber. While Gingrich’s claim to be the true conservative in the race is highly questionable, there is no question that he was the best at articulating the same fervor that helped galvanize Tea Party sentiment and sweep the last midterm elections. If Romney hopes to keep Gingrich’s latest comeback from gaining enough momentum to deny him the GOP nomination, he is going to have to find a way to convince conservatives that he is not merely a technocrat who understands the economy but a man who understands and can articulate their core beliefs. In other words, not only is the Tea Party’s moment not in the past, it is still very much the future of the Republican Party.
CNN is touting exit polls that said South Carolina voters who cared about a candidate’s religious beliefs overwhelmingly rejected Mitt Romney. They are speculating that this might mean that evangelicals turned down the former Massachusetts governor because of his Mormon faith. Given the polls that have backed up the idea of the prevalence of such prejudice, this isn’t a completely unreasonable conclusion.
However, it must be pointed out that such voters are also most likely to dislike Romney for other reasons. Romney’s reputation as a flip-flopper on social issues is a much bigger problem for him among conservative Christians than Mormonism. We’ve heard much less talk about Romney’s faith this year than we did four years when this appeared to be a major issue, especially in South Carolina.
A few moments ago the networks declared Newt Gingrich the winner in South Carolina. A week ago, Romney looked to have the nomination sewn up. But even if the Gingrich surge doesn’t last — and I don’t believe it will — this will turn the GOP race into a long, bruising slog.
As it turns out, one bad week may have cost Mitt Romney an easy stroll to the nomination. Reportedly, the exit polls are showing that half of South Carolinians decided whom to support in the last days before today’s primary and half of them chose Newt Gingrich. That means two debates that were judged to be successes for Gingrich and the distracting issue of his tax returns might have transformed the primary from easy Romney win to a surprising Gingrich triumph.
Mitt Romney’s bad week – which looks like it may get much worse before it’s over – just took another hit from a gloomy Gallup poll. Unlike other recent surveys, which have shown Romney dropping below Newt Gingrich in South Carolina, this one was a poll of national voters (via HotAir):
Gallup’s Editor-in-chief Frank Newport appeared on MSNBC to talk about the polling organization’s national tracking poll of the GOP primary race, which is changing rapidly in the last few days of the campaign for South Carolina. Newport said when their new data comes out at 1 pm eastern, “…we’ll see this gap closing more. Romney was up 23 points over Newt Gingrich. Now it will be down about ten points, so clearly things are collapsing.” …
“We have seen more movement, more roller coaster kind of effect this year than any other Republican primary in our history of tracking,” Newport said. “I think anything is possible. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility if Romney recovers. We’ll wait and see.”
Ed Morrissey notes two reasons for reading this poll with caution: it was a survey of registered voters, not likely voters, and it was also taken before the interview with Gingrich’s wife aired.
The last debate before the crucial South Carolina primary started off with a bang when CNN host John King asked Newt Gingrich about his second wife’s charge that he asked for an “open marriage.” The former speaker responded with a tirade against the media that earned wild applause from the audience in Charleston and may well have been the most significant sound bite from the evening. But the rest of the night didn’t go quite as well as for Gingrich, who entered the evening leading in some of the latest polls in the state.
The reason for that was this turned out to be Rick Santorum’s strongest performance in any of the debates. The former Pennsylvania senator scored points all night at the expense of both Gingrich and Mitt Romney, who spent much of the night on the defensive. That’s problematic for Romney, who might be able to salt away the nomination with a win on Saturday night. But the question for Republicans is whether Santorum’s pounding of the two men ahead of him in the polls will take away enough votes from Gingrich to let Romney squeak out a win in the state. Even more importantly, they will be left wondering whether Gingrich will be able to get away with dismissing his ex-wife’s comments as “trash” if a win in South Carolina enables him to effectively challenge Romney for the nomination.
The debate ends. Winners and losers? Santorum wins on points. Gingrich’s anti-media tantrum is the highlight. Romney has a mixed night. Paul irrelevant as always.
Newt says vote for me because I can beat Obama in debates. Gingrich mentions Saul Alinsky in bashing Obama. Romney says Obama is creating an entitlement society. Santorum says he will provide the clearest contrast with Obama.
Audience demands and gets a Ron Paul response on abortion. He says change the culture as well as the laws. Santorum then says Paul has only a 50% rating on right to life issues. Says it’s no better than Harry Reid’s.
Gingrich attacks Romney on abortion. Mentions Planned Parenthood twice in the same sentence. Romney says courts imposed abortion payments. Says charge about appointing pro-abortion judges misunderstands the issue. Says nobody (that means you Gingrich) should be questioning his integrity. Santorum says he’s the only one who makes the issue a priority. No argument there. Then hammers Gingrich for pushing social issues to the back of the bus.
Paul’s comments about moving the army from Afghanistan to the border is the first mention of foreign policy so far tonight.
Question about illegal immigration “amnesty.” Gingrich talking his way out of his own amnesty proposal. Romney says issue isn’t hard. Build a fence and enforce the law. Implies Gingrich plan is amnesty. Santorum says Romney has waffled and Gingrich is in the same position as Obama. Another strong attack from him.
Join us tonight as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the latest Republican presidential debate from South Carolina. So tune in to CNN at 8 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the remaining four GOP contenders have at it once again.
Debates have been the device that enabled Newt Gingrich to salvage his candidacy during the fall and then to revive it again earlier this week after a strong performance put him back into contention in South Carolina. But with most of the recent polls now showing Gingrich having vaulted into the lead in that state, the pressure is on Mitt Romney to do something in tonight’s debate that will reverse the momentum the former speaker of the House has created in the last few days.
Unlike his GOP rivals who have concentrated their fire on his record, Romney has focused most of his remarks in the debates on Barack Obama; the man he assumes will be his opponent in November. But with his South Carolina lead having evaporated and all eyes on the rhetorical dustup in Charleston to be broadcast on CNN tonight, Romney will be tempted to go on the offensive against Gingrich and echo some of the attacks his super PACs have used against the former speaker. However, that would be a mistake.
After disappointing showings in both Iowa and New Hampshire, it appeared that Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign was about to hit bottom. But improbably, Gingrich has rebounded, and with a new poll showing him holding a small lead over Mitt Romney in South Carolina, it appears that he may be riding one more surge back into contention.
The latest Insider Advantage/Majority Opinion Research poll conducted for the Augusta Chronicle and The Savannah Morning News shows Gingrich holding a 32-29 percent lead over the frontrunner. That’s a reversal of the same poll’s showings published on Sunday that had Romney leading 32-21 percent. Other polls still show Romney ahead — including a Politico/Tarance poll also published yesterday that has him up by seven points. But there’s little question that Gingrich’s strong performance in Monday night’s debate and the accumulated impact of the attacks on Romney has put the former speaker in a position to put the outcome of the GOP race in doubt with a victory in South Carolina on Saturday. It may also bring him closer to the one-on-one matchup with Romney that he and other conservatives have always thought was the only way to defeat him.
With only five days left until the crucial South Carolina primary, Mitt Romney’s Republican rivals know that time is running out for them to catch up with the frontrunner. So it was little surprise that Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry came out fighting at the Fox News/Wall Street Journal debate in Myrtle Beach. The result was a lively two hours of sharp exchanges between the candidates that made for better television than almost all of the 15 GOP debates that preceded it. But although Romney spent most of the night trying to fend off attacks and Gingrich, Santorum and even Perry all had strong performances, the evening ended as it began with the former Massachusetts governor still in position to put a stranglehold on the nomination with a victory in South Carolina.
Romney took hits on his business record and his record of flip-flopping throughout the debate. But as he has done in most of the earlier debates, he kept his cool and responded strongly when he got the chance. Though he was not able to spend as much time attacking President Obama as he liked, Romney still emerges as the victor if for no other reason than the fact that his invigorated opponents are all still splitting the conservative vote, making it nearly impossible for any one of them to catch the leader.
Join us tonight as senior online editor Jonathan S. Tobin live blogs the latest Republican presidential debate from South Carolina. So tune in to Fox News at 9 pm and then log on to Commentarymagazine.com for live insights as the remaining five GOP contenders have at it once again.
With Jon Huntsman joining Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Tim Pawlenty on the sidelines of the Republican presidential race, the stage at tonight’s FOX News/Wall Street Journal debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina will be a bit less crowded than the previous episodes of America’s favorite political reality show. That may allow the moderators to ask more questions but it will raise the stakes for the five men still left standing. With polls showing Mitt Romney’s lead growing in both South Carolina as well as nationally, this debate and the one on CNN on Thursday will provide his opponents with what may well be their last meaningful chances to alter the outcome of the race.
That means Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry are probably going to be aiming most of their fire at the frontrunner rather than each other. But unlike the attacks on Gingrich’s records that seemed to derail his campaign in Iowa, the attempt by the former speaker and the Texas governor to blast Romney’s business record from a left-wing perspective seems to have backfired. Though there are other avenues of attack, it remains to been seen whether anything they can say in these last five days can alter the course of a primary that may anoint Romney as the inevitable nominee.
The big political news today coming out of South Carolina is the decision of Jon Huntsman to withdraw from the Republican presidential race and endorse Mitt Romney. In doing so, Huntsman is acknowledging the failure of his campaign to catch fire and doing the honorable thing by backing the Republican who has the best chance of winning in November. But by getting on the Romney bandwagon, he’s following the same path that has seen a considerable portion of undecided South Carolinians who are now supporting the frontrunner.
Yesterday’s Insider Advantage/Majority Opinion Research poll conducted for Newsmax revealed a major swing to Romney when compared to the survey the same group had taken just four days earlier. While the numbers of all the other candidates remained relatively stable in the last week, Romney gained nine percentage points, going from 23 to 32 percent. That stretched his lead over Newt Gingrich to a comfortable 11 points with only five days to go before the Palmetto state votes. But just as important as the raw numbers is where Romney picked up support. In the last four days, IA/MOR poll found that those expressing “no opinion” went down from 15 to 7 percent. You don’t need a PhD in statistics to figure out that most of those undecideds are now in the Romney column.
Something seems to be chipping away at Romney’s poll numbers in South Carolina, but right now it’s still anybody’s guess what that is. The anti-Bain ads should be a top suspect, but several media outlets trekked to the South Carolina town that was apparently devastated by Bain’s “vulture capitalism,” and found that most people they talked to barely even remembered the company. The New York Times reports:
In a new barrage of political advertisements and speeches here, three of Mr. Romney’s opponents in South Carolina’s primary on Jan. 21 have used Gaffney and Bain’s business practices in other communities across the country as a kind of battering ram to portray him as a job-destroying robber baron. …
There is a problem, though. Here in Gaffney, where deeply held Christian beliefs often matter more than jobs, few remember the Holson Burnes photo album plant, let alone the devastation its closing is alleged to have caused back in 1992. …
At The Gaffney Ledger, a newspaper established in 1894 that seems to cover everything from stolen mopeds to the Y.M.C.A. basketball league, the publisher, Cody Sossamon, looked through old microfilm to refresh his memory. He could not find one drop of ink that was spent on the factory closing.
“Nobody here really cares about that. It wasn’t a big deal,” Mr. Sossamon said. “We’re looking for a new school superintendent. That and the economy are what people really care about right now.”
Rick Santorum is hoping the endorsement of a major evangelical group will help put him over the top next weekend in the crucial South Carolina primary. On the third ballot of voting, the leaders of the Family Research Council endorsed Santorum in a vote in which he bested Newt Gingrich by an 85 to 29 vote. Conservative Christians are hoping their backing will send a signal to South Carolinians that those seeking an alternative to frontrunner Mitt Romney should choose Santorum. But with the polls in the state still showing the former Pennsylvania senator lagging behind Gingrich and with both trailing Romney, it’s far from clear this will be enough to enable him to duplicate his near-win in Iowa.
The problem for Santorum and his evangelical fans is that Gingrich’s well-financed effort in South Carolina has put him within range of beating Romney himself. The three most recent polls showed Gingrich trailing Romney by two to seven percentage points and Santorum in third some 9 to 15 points out of first. This replicates the same dynamic that has thrust the relatively moderate Romney into a commanding position in the GOP presidential race. So long as conservatives are splitting their votes between Gingrich and Santorum with Rick Perry far behind them with five or six percent of the vote, Romney may well cruise to another victory in a multi-candidate battle.
It appears that CNN is waving its rules about qualifications to allow Rick Perry to take part in next Thursday’s debate in South Carolina. The network had said candidates would have had to place in the top four in either Iowa or New Hampshire and then register at least 7 percent in either national or South Carolina polls conducted in January. After flopping in Iowa and not even competing in New Hampshire, Perry doesn’t meet any of those criteria.
So in order to squeeze Perry into their debate, CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist decided to average three polls, two of which had Perry below the 7 percent mark. Exactly why the network felt compelled to do him a favor is not clear, but whatever its motivation, Perry will get one last chance to make his case to South Carolinians two days before the primary that will probably seal his fate as a presidential candidate. But given the fact that Perry’s decline is directly related to his debate performances, one wonders why, other than the humiliation of being excluded, he would care about getting into the CNN debate.
The liberal Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. ends his column this way:
Which leads to this observation from Gingrich: “I think there’s a real difference,” he said, “between people who believed in the free market and people who go around, take financial advantage, loot companies, leave behind broken families, broken towns, people on unemployment.” Yes, there are different kinds of capitalism.
Romney’s victory speech suggested that he hopes that the campaign will be about whether President Obama wants to turn the United States into Europe. A more relevant discussion would be over what American capitalism is — and should be. Thanks to Gingrich and Perry, this debate is now unavoidable.
More than a week after Rick Santorum appeared to be emerging as the leading conservative in the Republican presidential race, a new poll in South Carolina shows that the former Pennsylvania senator’s Iowa momentum has more or less collapsed. The latest survey of that state’s voters shows Santorum falling far behind Newt Gingrich in the race for second place. The poll also seems to indicate that the massive infusion of money into Gingrich’s campaign by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson may have helped turn South Carolina into a two-man race between the former speaker and frontrunner Mitt Romney. The Insider Advantage/Majority Opinion Research poll conducted for the Augusta Chronicle and the Savannah Morning News released Wednesday shows Romney in the lead in South Carolina with 23 percent but Gingrich close behind him in second with 21 percent. Santorum is not only a distant third with 13.5 percent but is holding onto that spot by only two-tenths of a percentage point over Ron Paul.
Gingrich’s mini-surge in the Palmetto state will probably be attributed to the vicious attacks his campaign has launched on Romney’s business record. It is no small irony that this assault, framed in a manner usually associated with the left’s distaste for free enterprise, may be allowing Gingrich to claim the mantle as the conservative alternative to the supposedly more moderate Romney. Meanwhile, Santorum, who had hoped after Iowa to emerge as the choice of the right, seems to be dropping back in the pack.