In light of yesterday’s stunning repudiation of the Mittster in South Carolina, I thought it would be useful to highlight some analysis from a few reporters and pundits.
There is no good news buried in here for Mitt Romney. None. As of this writing, Mitt Romney is leading in three counties in South Carolina: Charleston, Beaufort (Hilton Head) and Richland (Columbia). He lost fast-growing, coastal Horry County, home of Myrtle Beach, by 15 points. He lost Greenville and Spartanburg, in the upcountry, by similar margins. He lost Edgefield County by 40 points.
Romney likely lost all seven congressional districts, meaning that Gingrich probably swept the state’s delegates, and now leads in the overall count.
According to the exit polls, Romney lost among every major category of voter. The demographic groups he managed to win include those with postgraduate degrees (18 percent of the electorate), people earning $200,000 or more (5 percent), moderates (23 percent), non-evangelicals (35 percent), and pro-choicers (34 percent). None of the leads over Gingrich in these groups were particularly large.
Analysts are kidding themselves if they say Romney is the inevitable nominee. Simply put, there are very few states where he can perform among the major demographic groups the way he performed in South Carolina and still expect to win. And remember, this is still in many ways the electorate that selected Christine O’Donnell, Carl Paladino and Linda McMahon as its standard-bearers -- in very blue states with relatively moderate GOP electorates, no less.
This vote was an utter repudiation of Romney, and it absolutely will be repeated in state after state if something doesn’t change the basic dynamic of the race. It is true that Gingrich doesn’t have funds or organization, but he gets a ton of free media from the debates, and he has an electorate that simply wants someone other than Romney.
Byron York (emphasis mine):
Gingrich's campaign was also faster and more nimble than the Romney battleship. "There is a very strong contrast between the two campaign organizations," said Gingrich adviser (and former George W. Bush administration official) Kevin Kellems. "In military terms, it's speed versus mass. Newt Gingrich's operation, and Newt Gingrich as a man, has a great deal of speed -- intellectual speed, decisiveness. The Romney campaign is much more about money and size, having hired half of Washington D.C. And sometimes, speed beats mass."
A contemporaneous Tweet by Gingrich supporter, Bill Jacobson of Legal Insurrection, highlights one reason why last night's concession speech by Mitt Romney may have been one of the worst examples of one I've ever seen - and that's just the beginning. Romney did virtually everything wrong and nothing right in it, while looking to be one page behind on virtually everything.
Mitt's speech motivating me to oppose him even more - #IamNotaCommie
For better or worse, when Fox News and other networks are calling Newt Gingrich's SC win a "blow-out," it is his night. Romney should have thought better of it than to try and make any part of it his in the manner he did, even when playing to a home crowd, such as he was.
Mitt Romney has been making two points about his candidacy. He is the more electable candidate, and he can turn the economy around. According to exit polls, Gingrich ate away at these two core parts of the Romney pitch. Forty-five percent of South Carolina voters said beating Obama was the most important attribute they wanted in a candidate. Gingrich won that group with 48 percent of the vote to Romney's 39 percent. For the 63 percent who said the economy was the most important issue, Gingrich beat Romney 39 to 33.
For Mitt Romney, the South Carolina primary was not just a defeat, though it was most emphatically that. It was also where his campaign confronted the prospect it had most hoped to avoid: a dominant, surging and energized rival.
Romney, throughout the Republican race, was an incredibly vulnerable front-runner, given that he ran and governed as a moderate/liberal in Massachusetts and signed the health care law that was the model for the rightly-despised Obamacare. But his great organization, fundraising abilities and business background in an election about the economy were supposed to make him electable. Yet over the past few weeks, he's been unable to effectively respond to Gingrich's attacks on his career at private equity firm Bain Capital and to calls for him to release his tax returns. His favorability ratings have already been suffering, and today he got absolutely slaughtered in a state in which the establishment front-runner typically beats off insurgents and effectively locks down the nomination.
One South Carolina factoid I haven't seen commented on elsewhere: Rick Santorum ran closer to Mitt Romney than Romney did to Newt Gingrich. Romney and Gingrich are the front-runners, but any of the three could be the nominee.
Or it could be someone not yet in the race.
Two months ago, I wrote an editorial headlined “Evitable.” The subhead captured the thrust of the piece: “It might not be Mitt. It could be Newt. It could be someone else.”
The editorial concluded:
“Or, if Iowa (January 3), New Hampshire (January 10) and South Carolina (January 21) produce fragmented results, and the state of the race is disheartening to Republicans, a late January entry [I'd now say an early February entry] by another candidate isn’t out of the question, either . . .
Romney may not realize he’s having a near-death experience. Maybe that will change by the time Romney hits the Sunday morning shows. But his concession speech in Columbia bore few hallmarks of a candidate in the midst of a moment of self-awareness after a humiliating defeat in a state with a perfect track record of picking the eventual GOP nominee.
Without naming him, Romney slammed Newt Gingrich for using “weapons of the left” to attack him in the primary, and said those “weapons” will be used against the eventual nominee in the general election.
He overlooked a few things.
Over the course of the last several days, Romney’s hurdles have been largely of his own making — thanks to his halting and muddled responses, stretched out over two debates, over whether he would release his tax returns and then over how many years’ worth he’d put out.
Nikki Haley suffered a big loss. The South Carolina governor was an early and active endorser of Romney. But Haley has seen her own numbers in the state take a dive and, in the end, she did little for the Romney cause.
The presidential hopeful will undoubtedly remember how hard she worked for him, but Haley now goes back to the governor’s office with a palpable loss of political clout.
It’s always a risk for a home-state governor to endorse in a presidential election. But there was no reward for Haley in this — Romney did not reflect the tastes of the tea party voters who propelled her to victory in the 2010 elections — and her political opponents will pounce.
The establishment favorite didn’t just lose South Carolina — he got thrashed. Less than a week after he was leading in the polls here, Romney found himself taking a twelve-point beating and dropping all but three counties of the state’s 46 counties.
Romney’s thumping defeat — and his verbal miscues in the days before the election — has many Republicans worried that he’s a more brittle candidate than they thought. As in the past, he had difficulty connecting with the party base and was walloped by Gingrich among conservatives and voters supportive of the Tea Party. It’s the former speaker who is captivating party activists looking for somebody to channel their burn-it-down anger toward President Obama and elites.
“I think a lot of folks saw some fight from Newt Gingrich, really going on offense, and I think our nominee needs to understand that America is really concerned about the direction of our country,” Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said in an interview. “They know there are powerful forces in Washington and the media pushing us in the wrong direction. They want to make sure that the Republican nominee has got the courage and, you know, fire in his gut to go after that. And I think they saw a little bit of that in Newt.”
Romney’s decisive defeat Saturday immediately got dropped in part at the feet of the South Carolina governor, who provided him a high-profile endorsement — though a controversial one among the local tea party forces who propelled her into office in 2010. But in this first test both of translating her appeal and playing on the national stage, she flopped.
Wesley Donehue, a South Carolina GOP strategist who had worked for Michele Bachmann, said the lesson is that Haley reached for too much too quickly.
“Nikki Haley has great potential but she’s not there yet,” Donehue said. “She doesn’t have the stature to have a lot of pull. Right now she’s a brand-new governor that hasn’t proven herself yet. She needs to go be the most conservative governor in the United States of America, just like Jim DeMint is the most conservative senator. If she wants to be the conservative rock star, that’s what she has to do.”
The 12-point win represented a swift and extraordinary turnaround in Gingrich’s fortunes — thanks largely to strong performances in two debates. In those forums, he issued a stirring appeal to the state’s strident conservatism, convinced its voters he would be a formidable opponent against President Obama and threw Romney off his stride.
Mitt Romney has a base problem: In some ways, we are back to where we thought we might be in this race. Romney is the clear choice of the Republican party establishment but he simply cannot close the deal with conservatives — particularly evangelical voters — who seem willing to support anyone other than Romney.
In South Carolina, two-thirds of the primary electorate identified themselves as evangelicals. Among that group, Gingrich took 44 percent to 21 percent for Romney. Sixty four percent of the South Carolina electorate identified themselves as supporters of the tea party movement; Gingrich beat Romney 45 percent to 25 percent among that voting bloc.
Update: A few more observations.
“Mitt Romney’s going in trump card was electability. If you go back now to his 1994 senate primary, he’s been in 25 races. His record is six wins and 19 losses. Newt Gingrich won it, it seems at least 43 or 46 counties. He carried women and Evangelical conservative South Carolina. He carried evidently all seven Congressional districts.”
“So here’s what we now know, we all thought the big problem for Romney might be his Mormonism and it might be the Massachusetts healthcare plan. That’s not it. Mitt Romney’s problem is somehow his ‘Romneyness.’ That is the fact that people just are not connecting with him. Not just that he’s the first candidate we’ve ever had from the financial sector, which turns out to be a problem because finances, a, mysterious, and, b, disliked. But there’s something about him that is not connecting.”
”He might have been a great CEO, I’m saying he has been a lousy candidate so far. He doesn’t do well on his feet.”
Peter Hamby from CNN notes what is going to be a recipe for disaster for Mitt Romney as he tries to relate to the Republican base.
In South Carolina exit polls, Romney wins only the “moderate or liberal”, those with incomes in excess of $200,000.00, those with postgraduate education, those who oppose the tea party movement, and those who think religion does not matter at all.
A number of those have been consistent through Iowa and New Hampshire too.
Mitt Romney’s exit polling reflects he can get the votes of Washington, D.C. Republicans and those who think we should leave the fate of the country in their hands. But he cannot get the votes of those who think we need to reform and reduce the power of Washington, which I venture to say is a sizable portion of the base.
To appreciate the magnitude of Mandate Mitt’s electoral disaster in South Carolina, click here to see an interactive map of yesterday’s primary election.
Update II: Via Michael Walsh at the National Review:
With Newt’s big win tonight, the glaring weakness of Mitt Romney now stands revealed for all to see. Hopefully including Mitt. Because if this wasn’t a wake-up call for Team Romney, he’s a totally hopeless candidate.
All along, I’ve thought he was a pretty hopeless candidate, with too many weaknesses and very few political strengths. Stripped of his Iowa “win,” his record as a candidate is basically 2–4, with wins as Massachusetts governor and, this cycle, in the New Hampshire primary (as a semi-favorite son), but losses to Ted Kennedy, McCain, Rick Santorum, and now Mr. Newt.
This loss is a bad one. Not only did he blow a sizable (and, as it turns out, illusory) lead, he finds himself right back where he started this campaign, stuck at around a quarter of the vote. If that’s “electable,” the GOP is in serious trouble.
The smart set will be quick to tell you that Romney still has plenty of money and organization. So did Tim Pawlenty in Iowa and Michele Bachmann beat him. Those things may be beloved of the Republican “strategists” — who are, of course, merely tacticians obsessed with Operation Market Garden but who can’t find Berlin on a map — but in a primary campaign that is primarily being waged via the televised debates, they count for much less than they used to.
To Mr. Walsh’s comments I would add that Romney’s overall electoral record is 6-19…far worse than 2-4.