Newt's Win Means Republicans Want a Fight

Republican voters don’t just want a nominee who can fight Barack Obama. They also want a fight, period. That’s the lesson of Newt Gingrich’s stunning victory in South Carolina, which seemed improbable just a few days ago.

The Gingrich campaign seems to understand the pugilistic mood among conservative voters, e-mailing picture of boxing gloves to supporters as the final votes were counted, asking voters to deliver a “knockout punch” in Florida.

Gingrich campaign e-mail: in a pugilistic mood

It’s not quite clear that Republicans want the fight to be over, however. Though a long, drawn-out primary risks bruising the eventual nominee, it also allows Obama’s opponents to hold onto the spotlight, airing criticisms of the president–and the media–that might otherwise be muffled.

Newt rode two moments to victory: his epic response to CNN moderator John King in Thursday’s debate, and Mitt Romney’s failure to explain why he would not yet release his tax returns.

But Newt’s attack on Bain Capital nearly doomed his campaign, and rallied conservatives to the Romney camp for a few days. The lesson for Gingrich–and to the other candidates–is that while Republicans want a fight, they want it over conservative principles, not on Obama’s class warfare turf.

That’s a lesson also evident from Ron Paul’s fourth-place finish, behind Rick Santorum. Republicans will not support a candidate who freely makes use of the anti-war left and frequently bashes his own party from the podium.

Despite the Gingrich campaign’s exuberance, a “knockout punch” may be far off. Romney has been polling very high in Florida, and Santorum has been finishing well enough to stay in the race.

It’s not over–nor do Republican voters want it to be.