Newt Gingrich just won South Carolina. He did so convincingly, with a margin of more than 10 points as I write this. And he did so in some surprising ways: Exit polls suggested that the state’s Republicans were most concerned with finding a candidate who could beat President Obama. And those voters chose…Gingrich?
Actually, who knows – maybe they’re right. Yes, Gingrich has a lot of vulnerabilities. But, as we’ve seen this week, Romney has some too. His best asset, his experience in business, has become a liability. He’s an aristocrat running in a year when a lot of people, not just liberals like me, are angry about inequality. And despite extensive personal experience in politics, he’s turned out to be a horrible candidate, at least in the last few days.
The delegate math favors Romney. The calendar favors Romney. Logic favors Romney. As others including Nate Silver have observed, this feels a lot like Mondale-Hart in 1984, with Romney as Mondale and Gingrich as Hart (in more ways that one).
But if it’s still Romney’s race to lose, that means he could still lose it – which brings us back to Gingrich. As the former speaker was up on the podium Saturday night, bashing the liberal media as always, my colleague Noam Scheiber was among those observing that, if anything, the liberal media was even more giddy about Gingrich’s victory than victory himself. That’s probably true. Gingirch’s victory keeps the nomination battle going and it makes it far more interesting. There’s a reason that Garry Trudeau, author of Doonesbury, has long portrayed Gingrich as a bomb.
But I know one member of the liberal media who is not giddy: Me. There’s a reason Gingrich is rallying the conservative base right now: He’s espousing some very conservative ideas. For starters, Mr. Former Speaker, what is wrong with food stamps? Gingirch is also appealing to some less than enlightened instincts. Let's face it, his victory in South Carolina probably has less to do with attacks on Bain Capital than it does with an attack on Juan Williams.
Maybe the Gingrich schtick stops working outside of South Carolina and the Republican base – and maybe, if he somehow won the nomination, he’d be the gift to Democrats that everybody supposes. That's the safe bet. But in a year that’s already proven so unpredictable, how can anybody be sure?