I can’t believe what I’m seeing.
Two bluish states have spoken in the Republican primary; no red state has spoken yet, but that will change in a fortnight when South Carolina votes. Since 1980, South Carolina’s record of choosing the GOP nominee is 100%. Whoever wins there, wins. To win in South Carolina requires different tactics than it takes to win in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Mitt Romney is in the lead there, but he is vulnerable. There is time to stop his momentum. But his rivals are not hitting his weak spot. They’re mounting the political equivalent of a Pickett’s Charge.
They’re attacking his private sector work at Bain Capital. They’re calling him a “vulture capitalist.” They’re going populist instead of going conservative, attacking his strong spot instead of finding his weak spot and exploiting it. Unless I’m missing something, this will backfire on them and hand Romney the nomination.
Newt Gingrich is probably in the worst position of all, to make what amount to anti-capitalist attacks on Romney. This is the man who for all appearances was bought — as a “historian” — by the massive government entity known as Freddie Mac as it and its ugly twin were on the verge of wrecking the economy. Every “private sector” initiative Gingrich has ever run has ultimately been a public sector initiative. His attack from the left now feels quite a bit like that ad on the couch with Pelosi — a betrayal of who he claims to be.
Mitt Romney is vulnerable. There is a strong argument to be made that his record as governor of Massachusetts tells us quite a bit about how he would behave as president. There is a strong argument to be made that his efficient campaign and debate performances so far make him an Obama type — great at campaigning, lousy at governing, and we don’t need more of that. He raised taxes by $700 million. He instituted the forerunner to ObamaCare. He appointed extreme liberals to positions of power. His tenure left Massachusetts every bit as Democratic as it was before. He did not change the state for the better or strengthen the Republican party, and he didn’t even run for a second term — why? Was he afraid he would lose, or was he trying to fail up into the presidency? Make him defend that record. Make him answer for it. He can defend it, by pointing out that he was dealing with a very liberal state. And the response to that is, then what would he do with a hostile media and a hardened Democratic core in Congress? Would he fight for principles, or would he capitulate? What does his record tell us he would do? Make him defend, in South Carolina, running to Ted Kennedy’s left, and then governing from the left, and then running to the left of the GOP field now. Make him own his record, or repudiate it.
Two of his competitors, Huntsman and Perry, strike me as particularly well positioned to make this kind of argument. Both were or are successful governors, because they governed by conservative principles even when it was difficult to do so. Perry’s tenure has seen Texas transition from blue to red. His record and plans are superior to Romney’s in every way. Huntsman can back up his attack on Romney’s record by pointing to both his government and private sector record, and that he was successful and principled in both. (Yes, I realize that in Huntsman’s case, this would require him having what amounts to a “road to Damascus” moment first and drop the “I see America from 10,000 miles away” routine.)
The hour is late. Florida is already breaking hard for Romney. Polls are going to have to start moving away from Romney soon, or the inevitability will lock in and he will win. Attacking him as a capitalist in a red state will only help him lock up the win that much sooner.