Newt Gingrich just pulled off something that had been thought impossible. Never before had a candidate been clobbered in both Iowa and New Hampshire and then won South Carolina. Let's remember Gingrich finished 4th in Iowa, 5th in New Hampshire, and then won a landslide in South Carolina, winning 40-28. How on earth did that happen?
The 6 keys to Gingrich's South Carolina triumph are:
1. Gingrich's debating ability to say compelling things to Republican primary voters that literally cause standing ovations in the debate hall is an unprecedented weapon in politics. Normally a candidate is pleased to have gotten off one memorable attack line that gets repeated after a debate by pundits. Not Newt. Gingrich has reached new levels of debate performance and success that can devastate opponents.
2. The high number of nationally televised debates has not meant that each debate has become less important but instead more important. The sheer number of debates makes debates an opportunity to speak repeatedly to millions of voters, and each debate then triggers at least a day or two of commentary that reaches many more voters.
3. The Citizens United decision that allowed one friend of Newt Gingrich to write a $5 million check to his Super Pac, just as Gingrich was getting crushed in New Hampshire and finishing 5th there. Prior to Citizens United, the combination of a 4th and 5th place finish in Iowa and New Hampshire would have meant that Gingrich had no money for South Carolina. Instead Gingrich had a powerful paid media television campaign in South Carolina that went after Romney and his weaknesses with hard hitting negative ads. Negative ads worked once again.
4. The power of regionalism in American politics remains dominant, with Romney who has a home in the Granite state winning New Hampshire and Gingrich from neighboring Georgia taking South Carolina. After competing in New Hampshire with the ball and chain of being from below the Mason Dixon line, Newt Gingrich found himself in South Carolina against two rivals--Romney and Santorum--who are Yankees. In South Carolina, history is never dead or even over, with big parts of the Republican party of South Carolina deeply rooted in events going back to the firing on Fort Sumter. History is not dead or over, but it can be ironic.
5. Gingrich successfully used Romney's refusal to release his tax returns, his Cayman Islands offshore bank accounts, and his Bain record of acquiring companies by loading them with debt (leveraged buyout) to maximize investor gains to turn Romney's wealth and business history against him. Romney only won voters with incomes above $200,000. Gingrich destroyed Romney among voters with incomes less than $100,000
6. Gingrich is blessed by Romney's weakness that begins with his endless pandering, social awkwardness, and falsity. The latest Romney flip flop is that he will now release some of his tax returns. Mitt Romney is no John McCain who won New Hampshire and then nailed down the nomination by winning South Carolina.
What does all this mean going forward? First this primary season is going to be hotly contested into at least March. Second, Newt Gingrich will do very well in Southern states where he is on the ballot (Virginia incompetence of Gingrich hurts him), but remember that Florida is no longer politically a Southern state, as a result of the massive immigration to it.
Lastly, if Newt Gingrich gets another huge dose of money--either another big check from his Casino mogul patron or an internet money bomb--and if Gingrich keeps getting national debate platforms and he excels, Gingrich will win the nomination.