The Republican roller coaster-like primary election campaign, with three different winners in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, continues, and now it’s Newt Gingrich’s turn to sit at the top.
I blogged after New Hampshire that something special and unexpected had to happen in order to prevent Mitt Romney from becoming the party’s presidential candidate — that’s exactly what took place in South Carolina this week.
Newt Gingrich’s totally improbable upswing in the polls in South Carolina – from 21 to 35 per cent in just five days, while Romney went backwards, from 32 to 26 per cent — was crowned with a victory, and not any victory, but a convincing victory, by 12 per cent, 40 to Romney’s 28 per cent, and with Rick Santorum and Ron Paul at 17 and 13 per cent far behind.
It’s now a two-man race. Gingrich’s clear victory underlines Romney’s weakness among the party conservatives, who dominate the electorate in South Carolina. The Anti-Mitt Romney wing won, at least temporarily, and the final decision as to who will be the Republican presidential candidate has been postponed further, at least until the Florida election on January 31.
In exit polls today, 45 per cent answered that the most important factor for them was if they thought the candidate could beat Obama in November. Among these, 48 per cent chose Gingrich and 39 per cent Romney. Obviously, Republican voters think Gingrich has a better chance of doing this than Romney.
78 per cent of the voters were very worried about the economy and 61 per cent saw it as the most important issue in the election. Abortion and immigration came far behind. Gingrich’s three marriages seem to have played a small role, as Gingrich won in all groups, among men as well as among women, among the most conservative as well as among the Tea Party sympathizers.
Looking ahead to the presidential election in November, what took place in South Carolina this week is most worrisome, indeed alarming, for the Republican party, and not only because Gingrich won but also because of the way in which he won.
Charles Krauthammer, who like many other leading conservative columnists has warned of Gingrich, recently wrote about “the Republican suicide march,” when the struggling Democratic class warfare narrative was given life and legitimacy by the Republican candidates by attacking Romney and his past success as a venture capitalist.
“In a stroke, the Republicans have succeeded in turning a Democratic talking point — a last-ditch attempt to salvage (Obama’s) re-election by distracting from their record — into a central focus of the nation’s political discourse … This is the GOP maneuvering itself right onto Obama’s terrain … The president is a very smart man. But if he wins in November, it will be luck. He could not have chosen more self-destructive adversaries. “
Leading liberal commentators, like veteran William Greider in “The Nation”, could not believe his ears after listening to the Republican candidates talk about “vulture capitalism” and “crony capitalism” – it sounded as directly taken from the pages of “The Nation,” wrote an astounded Greider.
For what has now, in fact, happened is that the Republican primary election campaign has ensured that the growing economic inequality in America has come into central political focus. It is no longer only a message from Democrats and “Occupy Wall Street.” The struggle between the rich and the rest – between the 1 percent and the 99 percent – will be a major, perhaps decisive, election issue in November. It can only benefit President Obama and the Democratic Party. Hence the “suicide march…”