(The Wall Street Journal) – Different state, same old story. And Mitt Romney is smiling.
Even before the first votes of this nomination fight, the Republican presidential rivals to Mr. Romney were pointing to South Carolina. Iowa would be a scrum, they explained, and New Hampshire a foregone Romney conclusion. But South Carolina, well . . . watch that space. The Palmetto State would be the opportunity for one candidate to break out, unite all those South Carolina conservatives, and make this a race.
Someone might want to tell South Carolina. For all the bickering among the campaigns about how real Mr. Romney’s lead is here, there is one polling fact that is undeniable: No one Romney opponent is breaking out. The non-Romney vote is as split as ever, and for that the non-Romneys have only themselves to blame. They’re botching it.
Some 30 years after Ronald Reagan assembled his winning coalition, the task of any candidate who wants to unite conservatives remains largely the same: Run on a message that brings together economic libertarians, defense hawks and social conservatives. That’s the game here, the first-in-the-South primary, a state with sizable contingents of limited government, military and evangelical voters.
Newt Gingrich, who as recently as last month held a 20-point lead here, initially seemed to understand that job. His closing Iowa argument was that voters faced a choice between a “Massachusetts moderate” and a candidate born to a “bold Reagan conservatism” that highlighted economic growth and opportunity. Whether that message would have rescued Mr. Gingrich from his sliding poll numbers, we’ll never know.
He couldn’t stick with it. Mr. Gingrich is a gifted and knowledgeable politician, traits that have also given rise to a certain egoism and lack of discipline. Even before the Iowa caucuses, he was wandering off message, and his bitter, fourth-place finish inspired a vendetta against Mr. Romney. The optimistic Gingrich growth campaign quickly gave way to the opportunistic Gingrich Bain assault.
Running for a Republican nomination as an anticapitalist is not the smartest politics. Doing it even as you acknowledge taking $1.6 million from taxpayer ward Freddie Mac is the opposite of smart. The Gingrich team was betting it could tap into populist anger against wealthy Americans, but it misjudged its South Carolina audience.
GOP candidates Mitt Romney (left), Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry.
This is the state that for the past year has been the epicenter of the debate on the merits of a free market because of President Obama’s National Labor Relations Board attack on Boeing. The voters here get creative destruction, and when Mr. Gingrich brought up Bain at a forum in Charleston on Saturday, he was booed.
By Sunday, at an event in Georgetown, S.C.