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Republicans are unravelling in the wake of Newt Gingrich’s startling win in South Carolina yesterday. Philip Klein of The Washington Examiner captured the problem for the Republican party last night when he wrote, “Gingrich, the supposedly conservative choice, isn’t reliably conservative and the supposedly electable candidate is looking less and less electable.”
Mitt Romney was on his way to becoming the next Bob Dole, the default nominee of an unenthused Republican party. The media always understood that he was vulnerable to attack from a credible conservative. But last night exposed that he was also vulnerable to attack from a non-credible conservative.
Here’s what is going to happen in short order:
1) Gingrich is moving very quickly to soak up all the anti-Romney money and energy. He may begin leading national polls again this week.
2) Romney will return to attacks on Gingrich’s character; his shady dealings with Freddie Mac, his lobbying career, and try to remind people that the last time Gingrich was in the spotlight he became one of the most unpopular figures in America. These attacks seemed to work a month ago.
3) Conservative writers are going to unleash hell on Gingrich this week. They see him as an irresponsible figure who can permanently damage the conservative brand. And these writers have some indirect influence on the mainstream media.
4) Conservative radio talk-show hosts (who have much more influence over the grassroots) are much more likely to rally around Gingrich because they understand that Gingrich won by establishing that he was “one of us.” It doesn’t matter that Gingrich really isn’t all that conservative and has a pretty unsavory past: He has all the right enemies.
It’s shaping up to be an incredibly high-stakes, high-conflict scramble for the nomination just as we saw between Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama in 2008.
But there is a problem for the Republicans. The Clinton-Obama nomination fight was based on the candidates’ strengths. The Romney-Gingrich fight is happening because of the candidates’ weaknesses.
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