Within a matter of 72 hours, South Carolina had – and promptly lost – a golden opportunity to be a Republican king-maker. The stage was set for the unofficial coronation of Mitt Romney as the presidential candidate for the GOP. But it was not to be.
South Carolina was Romney’s for the taking, and with it, a clear path to the nomination in Tampa. Instead, defying all logic and expectation, the voters in the Palmetto State decided to hand Newt Gingrich a sizable victory (and at the last minute too no less).
Either Gingrich is a magician, or the voters in South Carolina are nowhere near as ‘conservative’ as the media or state Republicans make them out to be. If they are, then their selection of Gingrich was an example of pure hypocrisy.
Andy Ostroy, writing for the Huffington Post, astutely points out that:
“Gingrich arrogantly preaches about the “sacrament of marriage” and rants on endlessly about President Obama being the most “radical” president in history, yet when it comes to his own bedroom and relationships he’s been so radical he’s practically re-written the marital laws single-handedly.”
One would think that given South Carolina’s reputation as being a conservative Republican stronghold, Gingrich’s marital record would be enough to scare off even the most devout of his followers in the state. Ostroy’s confusion on why this wasn’t the case is something worth thinking about: “true conservatives, especially evangelicals, should be running from him like he was Lucifer incarnate.”
“Instead, they lavish him with a landslide.”
Why was this the case? Jay Cost writing for the Weekly Standard attributes Gingrich’s surprise win to the former speaker’s ability to harness conservative frustration. Never mind his numerous marital indiscretions or his propensity for ethics violations, Gingrich best represents downtrodden conservatives who are fed up with their treatment in Washington and in the news. As Cost writes, “conservatives are very frustrated, and rightfully so.”
“Their values are mocked on television and the movies, the media castigates them as a bunch of extremists, they pay taxes while half of the country does not, and the Obama administration took to demagoguing them virtually from day one of his tenure.”
South Carolina voters decided not to stand by and watch the Obama administration continue to relentlessly slander their values in his unceasing pursuit of influence over the hearts and minds of Americans. In this twisted analysis, Gingrich represents the conservative saviour – he was apparently the only one who could protect conservative values against the liberal media conspiracy that has targeted the ‘one half of the country’ that actually pays taxes. Cost believes that “conservatives everywhere love to hear someone finally sticking it to the elites”, and that’s exactly what Gingrich supposedly did.
Surely speaker Gingrich wouldn’t use his position of influence to try and shape the way Americans think and feel in such a calculating way as the ‘elitist’ Obama has done over the course of his first term.
Regardless of why South Carolina’s voters acted as they did, what is certain is that the state’s failure to act as Republican king-maker on Saturday is Florida’s gain. For Florida, the bizarre behaviour exhibited by South Carolina Republicans last week is great news. The Sunshine State is now squarely in the spotlight as the nation turns their attention to the fourth presidential primary.
As Alex Roarty from the National Journal writes, “an event that might have been irrelevant had Romney locked down South Carolina is likely to give one of the contenders his second win and possibly christen a new front-runner.” The stakes are high. Ken Goldstein, president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group writes that, “Florida is Armageddon, it’s just a whole different ball game in terms of the scope of the campaign, the number of media markets, the size of media markets and the expense of media markets.”
In terms of momentum, Gingrich seems to have the advantage – at least for now. With Florida being a notoriously difficult state to campaign in however, “Gingrich’s momentum will have to reckon with Mitt Romney’s organization strength on a playing field that is bigger, more diverse and more expensive than the first three primary states combined” according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Ryan McManus, writing for Tripped, believes that South Carolina’s decision to not let Gingrich’s personal life affect their decision was “a step in the right direction”, and that “America needs to continue this trend and not let private lives ruin perfectly capable people from doing their jobs.” The author also wonders if “this [will affect] Florida voters next week.”
If these voters choose the apparent ‘high road’ as their compatriots in South Carolina did on Saturday, many are skeptical that the Republicans could ever recover from an eventual Gingrich nomination that would become more likely following a victory in Florida.
Jennifer Rubin, writing for the Washington Post, believes that Florida is now tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that Gingrich does not become candidate, given the extent of his ‘deadly negatives’. She wonders why “name Republicans seem weirdly uninvolved” at this point however (given former governor Jeb Bush’s decision not to endorse any candidate), and points out the dangers of an establishment that stands idly by while a candidate as potentially destructive as Newt Gingrich sails to another victory:
“There is no shame in backing a candidate who eventually loses, the shame is in doing nothing while privately fretting that conservative ideals and the GOP may be irreparably harmed by Gingrich’s nomination.”
Andrew Belonsky, writing for Death and Taxes, shares Rubin’s insight on this when he says “the Republican party is going to have to find a way to make Gingrich, a renowned cry baby, more palatable” in the event of another Romney loss.
The disjunction between the Republican establishment and Republican voters is shaping up to be a major theme this primary season. Although the drama may be great to watch, it may spell the end of GOP electability come November.
In choosing Gingrich over Romney, South Carolina’s voters may have set the stage for what could be a long and ugly Republican contest that will serve to further discredit both candidates and weaken the eventual nominee against President Obama in November.
Florida is now in a prime position however, at least from the point-of-view of the Republican establishment, to ‘correct’ South Carolina’s mistake. The voters of Florida now have the opportunity to choose the candidate who would be the least harmful to the GOP in the long-term and who best represents conservative values nationally.
A win for Romney on the 31st in Florida would allow his campaign to begin focusing on the Democrats rather than on other Republican candidates, one of whom claims to the ‘true conservative’ option despite the mounting evidence against that fact.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com