On January 21, Mitt Romney went from being the presumptive GOP presidential candidate to being the guy who’s now spending dollars at a 20-to-1 ratio in Florida in an attempt to stop his meteoric plunge into the political abyss. Truth be known, the hard times began even a few days prior to January 21, when the official count in Iowa revealed that Rick Santorum had won the caucuses rather than Romney.
In a nutshell, as the nation watched the South Carolina primary approaching, Romney had two things going for him–the Republican establishment and the equally pro-Romney mainstream media. This gave him the illusion of strength: an illusion the Tea Party was able to see past (and through) as they ran to the one candidate whom Sarah Palin said she’d vote for in South Carolina–Newt Gingrich.
To put it as the UK’s Telegraph did:
The Tea Party was dead – long live the Beltway Cocktail Hour! Then came South Carolina, where religious and fiscal conservatives finally got it together and backed a candidate against Mitt Romney.
Honestly folks, even with the backing of prominent people like Karl Rove, Ann Coulter, and others, Romney only managed to win one of the first three contests (New Hampshire), and he didn’t just lose in South Carolina, he got throttled. Now, the historic fact that whoever wins South Carolina wins the GOP nomination has staggered Romney. And now he looks to Florida where Newt promises to deliver “the knockout punch.” So Romney’s handlers are circling the wagons, and talking about Gingrich the way they talked about Tea Party House and Senate candidates during the Nov. 2010 mid-term elections.
For example, David Brooks said: “The guy (Newt Gingrich) has, I think, a 27 percent national approval rating. He’s just unelectable. Maybe I’m just an elite pundit out of touch, but I can read numbers.” (Mind you, this is the same Brooks who, in 2008, said that Sarah Palin represented “a fatal cancer to the Republican party” and that John McCain was one of “the best candidates we’ve had in a long time.”) Romney supporter Ann Coulter quickly piled on to Newt as well, calling him the “least conservative” option as well as the “least electable.” And pundits at the POLITICO were quick to point out their theory that Gingrich didn’t win South Carolina because he did well in debates, but because he did well in disguising his weaknesses. (In an effort to continue holding out hope for an inside the beltway triumph, the POLITICO not only informed its readers that Romney will “rip that disguise from Gingrich” in Florida, but also told Romney how to do it, should he need few pointers.)
As I’ve already noted: historically speaking, whoever wins South Carolina wins the GOP nomination. There wasn’t a lot of focus on this point prior to the primary there because the establishment thought Romney had it, and there’s not a lot of focus on it now because they don’t want hayseed, backwoods conservatives believing that Gingrich can actually pull this off.
Only one thing is for sure at this point: The Republican establishment is feeling desperation. (Romney isn’t spending money 20-to-1 in Florida because his victory is inevitable.)