One of the pieces of conventional wisdom we’ve been hearing a lot of in the last few weeks is that a long, tough fight will be better for the eventual winner of the Republican presidential contest than one that is quickly decided. Since Newt Gingrich’s win in South Carolina tonight ensures that the nomination can’t be sewn up in short order, that theory is going to be tested in the coming weeks and months.

The proof for this thesis is supposedly the outcome of the 2008 Democratic primary battle in which an extended contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was seen as helping Obama in the long run.

Most observers believed Obama was toughened up the process in which he was forced to campaign all across the country. But there is a big difference between what happened to Obama and what Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich will undergo in the days ahead. Without the sympathetic if not adoring coverage that Obama got in the spring of 2008 from the mainstream press, the result of further GOP bloodletting will be two bleeding candidates no matter who turns out to be the winner.

It should be remembered that though Clinton criticized Obama for his shortcomings, most of the press did not choose to make much of the eventual Democratic nominee’s weaknesses. Even those stories that were reported extensively, such as his association with the radical Reverend Jeremiah Wright, were quickly put to rest after an Obama’s speech about race in which he skirted the basic issues.

Though we think of that race as being tough, both Obama and Clinton had to be careful not to be too tough since knocking around an African-American and a woman could be counter-productive.

But neither Republican will have these sorts of advantages. The mainstream media will, as they have in the last few weeks, eat up every negative story about either Romney or Gingrich and blow them out of proportion in a way that never happened to Obama or Clinton. The body blows that the candidates land will be amplified and echoed by Democrats and the liberal press. By the end of the spring, the two may be fully vetted (though it must be said that there is little we don’t already know about two men who have been in the public eye for a long time) but they will be diminished by it not strengthened.

As long as Republicans are tearing each other apart rather than focusing the public on President Obama’s failures, they will not be laying the groundwork for victory in November. Gingrich’s win tonight ensures that this will continue at least for a while. If it continues all spring and into the summer, Obama will have a lot to be happy about no matter whether his ultimate opponent is Romney or Gingrich.

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