No candidate has won the GOP nomination for President without winning South Carolina since Ronald Reagan in 1980. But every one of those candidates who won had also won either Iowa or New Hampshire.
We're now confronted with a designated front runner, Mitt Romney, who got less votes in Iowa in 2012 than he got in 2008 and who lost South Carolina. His reason for being somehow remains that he is "electable."
If you read a lot of the Republican commentary coming out of Washington even before the polls closed, suddenly South Carolina is irrelevant and the hick rubes of the Palmetto state are just petulant children.
Actually, like with Iowa, it is a rather desperate scream to get another player on the field. It is a red flag. It is the giant "Danger" sign ahead for the general election.
Newt Gingrich's rise has a lot to do with Newt Gingrich's debate performance. But it has just as much to do with a party base in revolt against its thought and party leaders in Washington, DC. The base is revolting because they swept the GOP back into relevance in Washington just under two years ago and they have been thanked with contempt ever since.
Adding insult to injury, the party and thought leaders now try to foist on the base a milquetoast moderate from Massachusetts. Newt Gingrich can thank Mitt Romney and more for the second look he is getting. Base hostility will now be exacerbated by Mitt Romney's backers now undoubtedly making a conscious effort to prop up Rick Santorum to shut down Newt Gingrich.
Consider, before going below the fold, that this is the first time non-Romney ads against Romney have been at parity with Mitt Romney. And that parity caused a rapid erosion of support for Mitt Romney. Parity in advertising, not superiority to Romney, was all it took to begin the end of his South Carolina dominance.
People are mad as hell they are about to be stuck with another boring, moderate, uninspiring choice that has at best a 50/50 shot at losing to the worst president since Carter. They are flocking to Newt not because they think he's a great guy, but because right now, he's the only one fighting for conservatism and GOP voters are looking for a vessel to channel their anger with Obama and their complete disappointment with the GOP establishment which is now embodied perfectly by Romney. They want a conservative fighter because most conservatives look back at Ford, Reagan, Bush, Dole, Bush, and McCain and see only the ones taking a conservative path against the Democrats actually winning.
Trump was a flash in the pan last year, but it was because he took the fight to Obama. And all of the others (Bachmann, Perry, Cain, etc) got their rise because at the time voters sensed they would fight back with them. If nothing else, in the last year, Newt has proven he won't wilt like Mitt did yesterday under pretty basic questioning from Laura Ingraham or a month ago under routine questioning from Brett Baier.
Newt has taken the worst the media, Romney and the left can dish out, and he's still standing and fighting with passion and eloquence. Sure, he'd probably be an erratic President, but right now Republican voters don't care about his Presidency. They care about the fight with the left both Mitt Romney, and the Washington Republican leaders like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell don't seem inclined to engage in.
In every way in the last two weeks, Romney has signaled he won't fight for the base. He looks like a lost child when trying to answer the taxes issue. He couldn't stand up to Santorum in the debate. He sounds every bit like Gordon Gekko, not Milton Friedman, when he talks Bain and free markets.
Basically, today's vote is about Republican grassroots giving the Washington Republican establishment the finger. The base is angry, and right now, only Newt is left to fight for them, as imperfect as he is. We may still end up with Romney, but voters aren't going to let him have it easily.
Party leaders who have invested so much in Mitt Romney might want now to ride on to a brokered convention and find someone acceptable to everyone. Because this most divisive and bitter primary in years is going to wipe out the GOP's chances to win in November. And while few of the Romney advocates of the past four years will admit it, it is because they have tried to foist onto the base a milquetoast moderate from Massachusetts as energizing to conservatives as a dead battery.
Consider this related post by Ben Domenech a must read on this subject.