Newt Gingrich may have done Mitt Romney a favor by winning the South Carolina primary tonight.
If Mitt Romney had won, he would have become the de facto nominee earlier than any other presidential candidate in U.S. history, meaning that he alone would have had to endure more media scrutiny – for a longer period of time – than any of his predecessors.
Instead, he’ll now continue to share the media’s harsh glare with Newt Gingrich, a severely flawed candidate who will steal some of the limelight and help buffer Mr. Romney’s coverage. More stories about Mr. Gingrich’s angry ex-wife and messy leadership as House Speaker means fewer stories about Mr. Romney’s tax returns and Bain Capital.
If Mr. Romney had won tonight, he would have had to endure the media scrutiny alone for the next ten months. That would have been bad news for the Romney campaign for one reason: Mitt Romney does not wear well.
The more people are exposed to him, the more they dislike him. That’s not a personal view, but the conclusion of a Pew Research Center survey, which found that Mr. Romney is viewed favorably by only 33 percent of the public and unfavorably by 47 percent.
But now, Mr. Romney will have the advantage of appearing side-by-side in media stories with Mr. Gingrich, allowing voters to see a stark contrast between the two men.
Mr. Gingrich will be seen as an exciting politician who says unpredictable things that excite the base, traits that didn’t exactly rocket Pat Buchanan or Howard Dean to the nomination. Mr. Romney, who comports himself more like eventual nominees Al Gore, Bob Dole, and John Kerry, will likely be viewed as more presidential in comparison, likely helping to pave his way to the nomination. Of course, those three men eventually lost their general elections – but not before capturing their parties’ nominations first.
Assuming the wheels don’t fall completely off the Romney campaign, the comparison between the two men will help him and will shorten the length of time he has to endure the spotlight on his own.
I know some people will say a quick win would have been better for Mitt Romney since his campaign would have been able to save its money for a general election run. That’s true. But the bigger problem for Mitt Romney isn’t cash-on-hand. It’s likeability.
Note: For comparison’s sake, here are some of history’s earliest “clinch” dates:
- January 27, 2004: John Kerry wins New Hampshire, becoming the de facto nominee.
- February 1, 2000: Al Gore narrowly beats Bill Bradley in New Hampshire, becoming the de facto Democratic nominee.
- February 5, 2008: John McCain becomes the de facto nominee after his Super Tuesday wins over Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.
- February 29, 2000: George W. Bush finally becomes the de facto nominee after beating John McCain in Virginia and Washington.
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