There are storm clouds on the horizon. A day after Mitt Romney's massive win in Florida he opened his mouth and promptly told conservatives he was incapable of articulating conservatism.
Then Newt Gingrich found a bright line rule in the Republican rules that clearly and precisely states that all delegates awarded before April 1, 2012, must be proportional. There goes giving Romney all fifty delegates from Florida despite what Florida's GOP Chairman says.
Then National Review and other Romney supporters , taking a bit of comfort in his secure win in Florida, decided they could finally express some buyers remorse, or at least now stop zealously defending him and criticize him some.
Then people really examined the exit polls in Florida. What they found was that turnout fell from 2008. But in counties where turn out was up, Newt Gingrich won. Where turnout from 2008 was down, Romney won. This pattern followed South Carolina. The base remains unexcited about Romney and his comments yesterday about the poor and the social safety net keep the base from getting excited.
What should have been Mitt Romney heading into February securing his nomination now becomes an effort to stave off a rear guard action to pick him off. Gingrich and Santorum now have the ammunition they need to keep the Great Coalescing from happening.
What should have been a clear path to the nomination is suddenly in jeopardy.
We'll get into it all in the Horserace.
You would not know it, but Gingrich has put his campaign through a bit of a shake up in order to instill more discipline within the campaign and hopefully within himself. His erratic messaging and attacks hurt him in Florida. He knows it.
The campaign knows that Newt Gingrich's debate strategy — naps and quiet time — I AM NOT JOKING — will no longer serve him. The Romney camp sought to destroy the myth of Gingrich the Great Debater and largely succeeded in Florida.
Gingrich has much to do. He needs more focus, more message discipline, and more delegates. The RNC rule on proportional delegates will help him. Like Florida, Arizona had intended a winner take all primary, but that is not to be. And lucky for Gingrich, Mitt Romney's comments on the poor and the conservative outcry over them will give Gingrich an issue with which he can focus on jobs, the economy, and Mitt Romney. If Gingrich is serious about staying in till the convention, he could deny Romney a first ballot win and spare the base from the man they don't like, even if Newt himself cannot get the nomination.
He is more of a long shot today than he was a day before Florida, but he can still be the nominee.
The spectacular disaster of the Ron Paul campaign has been one of the least told stories on the campaign trail. The media is officially ignoring Ron Paul because they don't want to deal with the crazy that will come out if they even deal with Ron Paul objectively.
He came in third in Iowa. He came in second in New Hampshire. He came in fourth in South Carolina. He came in fourth in Florida. Yes, he may currently lead Santorum in delegates, but consistently coming in behind the winner does not help him. He has not won a single state. He is the only candidate left standing to not win a state.
He hopes that Nevada will be that state. Caucuses are notoriously hard to poll, but the polls show he won't come in first. It is Ron Paul's best shot at a first place win. If he does not come in first in Nevada, his only other hope is to go to a brokered convention. That becomes harder and harder for him as we get to winner take all states if he can't win at least one now.
Ron Paul will not be the nominee. But might Gingrich and Santorum ally with Paul in Virginia and throw their support to him? It would bolster Paul there, but more importantly it would hurt Mitt Romney badly. Santorum and Gingrich are not on the ballot there.
Had Mitt Romney not gone on Soledad O'Brien's show and said what he said, he would be fully secure in his nomination. He has put himself in jeopardy. He gives Santorum and Gingrich wiggle room to keep playing.
I have to agree with Jamie Dupree of Cox Media Group's Washington Bureau. Mitt Romney is too message disciplined for something like this to happen accidentally. There had to be campaign preparation for this. There had to be campaign strategy behind the statement. My only guess is that, like Gingrich, Romney is exhausted from three weeks of grueling campaigns. He didn't get the talking points out right. He flubbed.
But to go on CNN and say what he said and then reiterate it later with a surrogate saying Romney won't change policies for the poor had to be a planned strategy. The messaging had to have gotten screwed up though. That, or the Romney camp really is out of touch.
This is still Mitt Romney's race to win or lose. The next few states favor him. But he just gave powerful ammunition to Gingrich and Santorum. How those campaigns use it will tell us more about them than Romney.
The Romney camp is actually nervous about Santorum. They believe he can do well in the caucus states that, even though they are non-binding, will put wind into Santorum's sail. They are nervous.
Santorum has not shown he can compete past Iowa. He does not have the money. He does not have the resources. He does not have a large enough team. But he has passion. And I maintain that Santorum staying in the race hurts Romney more than Gingrich because ultimately Santorum's voters will drift slowly to Romney.
That won't happen with Santorum in the race. And if, like in South Carolina, Santorum is able to pick up steam and money, Romney will have both Gingrich and Santorum firing at him. That's bad news for Romney.