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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Gingrich Wins South Carolina Primary

"He's cut! The Russian's cut! And it's a BAD cut!" -American blow-by-blow announcer in Rocky IV

In Rocky IV, Ivan Drago was considered unbeatable. He was a giant. He used steroids. His punch packed 2000 pounds psi. He killed Apollo Creed in an exhibition match. His subsequent Christmas Day match against veteran Rocky Balboa wasn't even sanctioned by US professional boxing, thus the bout's a placement in Moscow. Everyone was sure Rocky was over the hill, his career behind him and one step from retirement. The Russian boxer was too big, too strong, too good. He was the future of boxing. Rocky was the past.

Rocky Balboa, however, had other plans. Still, come Christmas, Rocky seemed outgunned; after two brutal early knockdowns from the Soviet belligerent, everything was unfolding as it should. But then, late in the second round, when Rocky was backed into a corner, he came out with a vicious right hook, slicing a cut above Drago's eye, stunning the Russian goliath. And then the world realized: Rocky can win this thing. The giant is vulnerable.

Mitt Romney was also considered invincible. He outraised and outspent all other Republican candidates. He had essentially campaigned for six years in Iowa and had a house in New Hampshire. In the debates, he had all the tools of a calm frontrunner. He killed Rick Perry. Meanwhile, everyone was rather certain that Newt Gingrich's long career was behind him. Mitt Romney, it became increasingly clear, was the future of the Republican Party. Newt Gingrich was the past.

Gingrich, however, had other plans. Still, after taking a beating in Iowa and New Hampshire, Gingrich looked outmatched. Romney was winning, just as he was supposed to. The script unfolded as we expected.

But then, last night in South Carolina, Newt Gingrich, backed into a corner by Romney's enormous spending ability and unrelenting Pro-Romney SuperPACs, landed a right hook. His primary win was the moment Mitt Romney finally looked vulnerable. And now every pundit and insider is looking around and regaining our bearings. And we can't believe what we're saying as we're saying it: Mitt Romney is cut, and he could lose.

And in fact, there's a case to be made that he WILL lose. There's a case to be made--incredibly and against most odds--that Newt Gingrich is the favorite to be the Republican nominee. I'm not saying he is; I'm just saying there's a case to be made. In the coming days, I'm going to see if I can make it and believe it at the same time.

What most interests me, moving forward, is not what Rick Santorum will do or how Florida Latinos will vote--though both are mildly intriguing--but how Gingrich will be portrayed by the Republicans who don't want him as their nominee. More specifically, remember that we've all been looking to see which Republican would emerge as the "anti-Romney." Now that it looks to be Gingrich, I'm eager to see if there's an equally large faction and interest in nominating an "anti-Gingrich." Remember, such a storyline was irrelevant as the party scrambled to find someone with a consistent conservative background to replace the heavy favorite, Mitt Romney. But with a new co-favorite, will we see a quiet faction of Republicans who fear a Gingrich candidacy just as much as so many feared a Romney nomination, only they've had little reason to make themselves known because Gingrich hasn't been a factor in voting until now?

We have nine days to see if this faction makes itself known. The Florida Primary is not until January 31. Until then, the bell just rang for the next round. Sit back and enjoy the fight.

On the left sidebar, I've moved Gingrich from 4:1 to 2:1 to win the primary, and Romney has been moved from 2:5 to 4:5. Yes, Romney is still the favorite. He'll scramble to find his bearings in the ten days before the Florida primary, and between his head-start in advertising, Florida's left of Carolina tendencies, Gingrich's long history in politics, and Romney's massive campaign war chest, I do expect for him to slow the bleeding from above his left eye.

Certainly more on these developments as the week continues.

(Editor's note: If you didn't earlier, I do recommend watching the youtube excerpt from Rocky IV to see exactly how well the American commentator seems to characterize and foreshadow Gingrich vs. Romney. It's some nice unintentional comedy to replace two buff boxers with two aged Republicans.)

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