Sunday, January 22, 2012

Lessons From South Carolina

. . . Newt Gingrich’s rise has a lot to do with Newt Gingrich’s debate performance. But it has just as much to do with a party base in revolt against its thought and party leaders in Washington, DC. The base is revolting because they swept the GOP back into relevance in Washington just under two years ago and they have been thanked with contempt ever since.

Adding insult to injury, the party and thought leaders now try to foist on the base a milquetoast moderate from Massachusetts. Newt Gingrich can thank Mitt Romney and more for the second look he is getting. Base hostility will now be exacerbated by Mitt Romney’s backers now undoubtedly making a conscious effort to prop up Rick Santorum to shut down Newt Gingrich. . . .

People are mad as hell they are about to be stuck with another boring, moderate, uninspiring choice that has at best a 50/50 shot at losing to the worst president since Carter. They are flocking to Newt not because they think he’s a great guy, but because right now, he’s the only one fighting for conservatism and GOP voters are looking for a vessel to channel their anger with Obama and their complete disappointment with the GOP establishment which is now embodied perfectly by Romney. They want a conservative fighter because most conservatives look back at Ford, Reagan, Bush, Dole, Bush, and McCain and see only the ones taking a conservative path against the Democrats actually winning.

Eric Erickson, Newt Gingrich Wins. What It Means. Red State, 21 Jan. 2012

Newt Gingrich just won the South Carolina primary running away, 40% to Romney's 28%. The exit polls explaining Gingrich's win are a gold mine of data for both Gingrich and Romney going forward.

Gingrich:

The exit polls, shown here and excerpted in relevant part in the post below, show that Newt won virtually every demographic and on virtually every major issue. He won across all income levels, including blue collar and white collar types. The numbers show what are Gingrich's winning messages.

Jobs and the Economy:

This was the big issue from the exit polls - critical to 63% of the voters, and Gingrich beat Romney among those voters by 8 points. I found that surprising. What it says is that the electorate responded to Newt's economic experience while in Congress more so than they trusted Romney to be able to translate his business experience into a successful economic plan.

Given the centrality of this issue and the success Gingrich has had with it, Gingrich needs to make this issue number one going forward, not just on the stump, but in a majority of advertisements. He needs to emphasize, at every opportunity, the fact that government does not create jobs, the private sector does. The mission of government is to create a positive playing field for business - and in that, he can legitimately claim that his incredibly successful experience at the federal level is far more significant than Romney's as governor, and of a different nature all together than Romney's private sector experience.

Budget Deficit:

This issue was central to 22% of the voters, and Gingrich crushed Romney among these voters, 45% to 23%. Obviously the fact that Gingrich actually balanced the federal budget during his Speakership weighed heavily on that issue. That said, Romney has pointed out that he balanced the budget as Governor of Massachusetts. What Romney neglects to say - and that Gingrich should be bringing up - is that Mass. law requires a balanced budget. Romney is taking credit for doing nothing more than complying with the law. Gingrich's achievement while as a Speaker was orders of magnitude tougher - a point Gingrich should emphasize.

On The Morality Issues:

Deeply religious and conservative South Carolina has put to rest any questions about whether Gingrich's past moral failings are going to be a drain on him. They aren't. Gingrich captured the vote of women generally (38% to 29%) and of married individuals (41% to 28%) in SC. Moreover, he captured as much of the evangelical vote (44%) as Gov. Huckabee did when he ran in SC in 2008.

Electability:

On the issue of electability, the 45% of SC voters who voted in light of that issue judged Gingrich more electable versus Obama than Romney by 51% to 37%. It seems clear that their decision was based on the debates and Gingrich's willingness to, one, eloquently and passionately burn the race card while defending conservative values (Juan Williams), and two, to take on the press for their bias (John King).

Listening to Fox News tonight, the talking heads who oppose a Gingrich nomination are taking the position that debate performances will matter very little in the general election. In essence, just because Newt is such an effective communicator and defender of conservative values, it has little to do with electability. That is patently false.

Gingrich needs to address this for two reasons. One, this is his single greatest strength. As Eric Erickson notes in the passage quoted at the top of the page, conservatives more than anything else are hungering for a person who can do what Gingrich does. Two, Newt needs to push back against this meme that his communication skills matter only a little. To the contrary, they matter tremendously.

John McCain lost the 2008 election because he ceded the major issues to the Obama narrative. Outrageously, over half the nation still thinks that the subprime crisis was caused by Wall St. greed. Bush failed to reform Social Security because the left was able to demagogue the issue. The Bush presidency was crippled because of Bush's failure to directly challenge the left's despicable campaign to loose the Iraq war. The base understands this. The ability to communicate may well be the single most important skill for any conservative nominee for President today. As Erickson says, look back at Ford, Reagan, Bush, Dole, Bush, and McCain, the only ones who have won have been those that unapologetically and vocally embraced conservativism. Newt needs to emphasize precisely that.

Independents

Self-identified independents broke for Gingrich 31% to 25%. It would seem that he doesn't have anywhere near the problem with independents that his critics would like us to believe. There is no real lesson here other than keep doing what he is doing.

Going Negative On Bain

The majority of voters in S.C., 64%, had a positive view of Romney's experience as a venture capitalist with Bain and, of those people, they broke almost evenly between between Gingrich and Romney. As to the 24% of Republicans that had a negative view of Romney's experience as a 'vulture capitalist,' 50% went for Gingrich, 3% went to Romney. Thus it would seem that Newt's going negative on Bain did make a real difference.

That said, I wonder how much of a backlash there may well be later in the campaign if Gingrich keeps up this attack on Bain and, by extension, capitalism. Gingrich has enough strengths, as mentioned above, that he really should lay off the Bain issue.

What Gingrich Can Expect Going Forward

Gingrich has been the subject of the most concerted internal effort to destroy a Republican candidate since Barry Goldwater in 1964. With this huge Gingrich win in SC, expect the floodgates to open, making the left's efforts to demonize and delegitimize Sarah Palin in 2008 look like a measured effort in intellectual honesty. This is going to get real ugly real quick. Let's hope that Newt can withstand the inferno in the kitchen.

There is still at least one area in which Newt has yet to be truly pressed and which he needs to be fully prepared to address - the fact that he lost his speakership to a coup after three years. He needs to be prepared to answer that in the upcoming weeks.

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Mitt Romney

Romney collapsed in South Carolina over two issues. One, his horrid answers when asked about releasing his tax returns. He became not merely defensive, but stuttering and rambling over the issue. Clearly he has some worries over this. But the old adage is true - bad news does not improve with age. He needs to release his tax documents immediately or this is an issue that is just going to haunt him.

Two, Romney's campaign can best be described as defend and coast. He has clearly failed to make the case for his candidacy. Claiming divine right to the nomination based on "electability," he has played a defense to this point - just say the right platitudes and bromides and avoid mistakes. For example, for months Romney refused to appear on television talk shows - at least until it became clear that he would face a real challenge from Gingrich.

In probably the most telling example, both Romney and Gingrich have been presented with what they thought were unfair questions from the press. When Bret Baer asked Romney a question he thought unfair, Romney answered it with a forced smile, then waited for the interview to end before coming back to Baer and expressing his displeasure. When Gingrich was asked an unfair question by John King, in full view of the public, he took out a knife, emasculated King and then nailed his testicles to the podium before asking for the next question. Romney needs to quickly figure out that his acts earned the scorn of the base, while Gingrich's earned him a standing ovation and 40% of the vote in South Carolina.

The Economy & Jobs

Romney has been relying on the bald fact of his experience in business to claim that he could best manage the economy. While that by itself might be a winning message against Obama, it did not work in SC against Gingrich, who was part of one of the biggest expansions of jobs in our nation's history. Romney needs to explain why his experience in business would at least make him the equal of Gingrich. A few anecdotes might do the trick. Regardless, if he can't win on this issue, he has deeply serious problems.

Budget Deficit:

Romney is loosing to Gingrich by 22% on this issue. Romney needs to do a much better job articulating how he will reduce the deficit than he is doing. The program he proposes on his website is far more complicated than what Gingrich has proposed, yet Mitt hasn't made a simple, convincing case as to why his plan is more likely to succeed.

Electability

Romney needs to stop claiming inevitability and electability and start concentrating on all of the issues that undergird such claims. Indeed, any such claims in the wake of South Carolina will just be engender laughter.

Going Negative On Gingrich

The problem with hitting somebody unfairly is that, when they can, they strike back. Gingrich didn't have the funding or time to withstand a multi-million dollar negative assault in Iowa. He did in South Carolina and, though he was outspent by Romney 2 to 1, ran away with the primary. Going negative did not work for Romney in 2008, it likely won't work now with Gingrich having the financial muscle to punch back. Romney is going to have to become much more aggressive in explaining why he would make the best President rather than concentrating on why Gingrich shouldn't be.

Going Forward

This election is still Romney's to lose. He has a superior organization built up over four years, he has the largest war chest, and he is not merely the favorite son of Republican elites, but these same elites suffer full blown Gingrich Derangement Syndrome. The next several contests are in areas favorable to Romney, from Florida to Nevada. Nonetheless, if he continues to play defense and expects the nomination to be handed to him, he could yet pull defeat from the jaws of victory. He needs to start earning the nomination.

As to Ron Paul, he came in last place with 13% of the vote.  He is staying in the race just so he can impact on the plank of the Republican Convention. Santorum, who earned 17% of the vote, is in the race at least through Florida, though another low showing will likely see him exiting the race just because of a lack of funds. That is, he would be forced out unless some of Romney's money men prop him up to keep in the race and draining votes from Gingrich. I would not be overly surprised to see that.

Linked:  Larwyn's Linx

3 comments:

creeper said...

Outstanding analysis. Simply outstanding. Thank you.

SPON said...

I agree, excellent. If I may add
that I am proud of my fellow Carolinians for coming out in the weather that the news idiots said was going to be a HUGE factor and making this one of the best turnouts we have ever had.

GW said...

Thanks for the kind words. They are appreciated. And indeed, thanks to SC for turning out and putting their imprint on the campaign. Their votes speak a thousand times louder than the pundit class.