South Carolina Republicans delivered what former president George W. Bush once called a “thumpin’” to Mitt Romney. Republicans have too many misgivings about Romney — misgivings we share — to give him a shortcut to the nomination. He will have to earn it, if he can. So far he has been content to deliver lifeless platitudes, apparently under the impression that saying he “believes in America” is the way to clinch an argument rather than begin or summarize one. Instead of projecting strength, he has wilted under challenge. For a while there, his position on releasing tax returns was starting to look as convoluted as the tax code itself. He has done little to persuade conservative voters that he will fight for our priorities.
But attention must now turn to South Carolina’s big winner, Newt Gingrich. If the question before South Carolinians was whether to declare the nomination contest over by choosing Romney, the question before Floridians is whether to make Gingrich the front-runner. Romney is now running a sharply negative campaign in order to capitalize on this distinction. Since neither Gingrich nor Romney can make the case that he is a purebred conservative or a world-beating political talent, both are now essentially relying on a negative argument: The other guy is unreliable and unelectable. There is enough truth in both indictments to explain the continued appeal of other candidates’ joining the race.
Keep reading this post . . .