A Gingrich Win Could Benefit Everyone — Even Romney
12:00 AM, Jan 18, 2012 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
Three days before the South Carolina Republican primary, the press corps is poised to declare the GOP race over. If Mitt Romney follows up his wins in Iowa and New Hampshire with a win in the South, the media will tell Republicans in the other 47 states that there’s no need for them to cast votes in a democratic fashion, Romney’s coronation being inevitable.
Of course, the press’s portrayal is hardly the only way that these events could be reported. Romney won in Iowa — if, in fact, he actually did win in Iowa — with less than 25 percent of the vote and by a smaller margin than might typically decide a Rotary Club or homeowners association election. He then won a convincing plurality (not a majority, not even 40 percent) of the vote in New Hampshire, where he’s been campaigning for years, where he owns a house, and where his home state of Massachusetts lies just across the border. If he wins in South Carolina, that would clearly be a good win for him. But it would also be his first win in a Republican-leaning state, it would at least partly be attributable to his momentum going in, and it would again be without anything approaching a majority of the vote. Would this be evidence of a juggernaut?
Indeed, there’s something ludicrous about claiming that a candidate who wins perhaps a third of the vote in three states that together account for 3 percent of the U.S. population, is the inevitable winner in a nationwide race. And there’s something particularly disturbing about having such a premature claim be applied to a contest that will decide who represents the Republican party in what is likely the most important election since the Civil War.
Ludicrous or not, however, that’s how the press will report on the state of the race if Romney wins in South Carolina. But if Newt Gingrich, Romney’s most formidable challenger in the Palmetto State, wins instead, the result would be very different. Gingrich would then be well positioned to challenge Romney for weeks if not months to come, with or without a win in the follow-on primary in Florida. This would be true for the simple reasons that Romney could no longer plausibly be portrayed as invincible, and because any subsequent winnowing of the field would help consolidate the conservative vote, potentially to Gingrich’s benefit.
However, if Gingrich wins in South Carolina, he would hardly be the only candidate to benefit. Rather, a win there by the former speaker would help keep alive or advance opportunities for everyone else in the GOP field.
Rick Santorum has shown himself to be capable of making a compelling economic pitch to which President Obama might have a hard time responding — one that focuses on the plight of small businesses and on America’s shrinking manufacturing sector, both of which are struggling under this administration’s burdensome tax and regulatory policies. He also recently won the endorsement of a national convention of socially conservative Christian leaders. Moreover, he has displayed impressive knowledge and well-reasoned thinking on a variety of issues in debates. A Gingrich win in South Carolina would buy Santorum — probably the least well-known of any of the remaining candidates coming into this race — more time to capitalize on these considerable strengths, free of the handicap of trying to be heard over the press’s insistence that no one should be listening anymore.
Sure, it would also put Santorum a bit behind Gingrich in the race to be “the anti-Romney.” But if Romney beats Gingrich in South Carolina, the media will say that there is no more race to be “the anti-Romney”; there’s only Romney. Besides, does anyone really think that Santorum (who beat Gingrich in Iowa and New Hampshire) couldn’t potentially win people over further down the line, in states that don’t border Gingrich’s home state of Georgia? Or that Gingrich couldn’t subsequently implode?
Likewise, a Gingrich win in South Carolina could help Ron Paul. The more people stay attuned to the race, the more Paul will have a meaningful platform from which to advance his message of fiscal restraint, sound money, and the need to pursue peace, love, and harmony with a nuclear Iran.