Last night was not a good night for Mitt Romney. Voters in South Carolina repudiated him in a stark way, and sought comfort in the arms of a candidate thought by many (outside SC) to be weaker in the general election. Of interest to me last night were the exit polls in which SC voters consistently cited Speaker Gingrich as the more "electable" candidate, with "electability" related directly to debating skills. The voters are HUNGRY to see someone who can give it to the President with both barrels, and there is no question that Newt can do that. What Mr. Romney must now do is show that he too can do the same. He needs to get aggressive, and go on the offensive. And his immediate target is NOT Barack Obama, it is Newt Gingrich.
Romney lost in South Carolina because of one thing and one thing only--his answers in two straight debates on his tax returns. His defense of free market capitalism and his time at Bain were well done; his prevarication and stumbling in the face of questions about his tax returns--not so much. People viewing were left with many questions in their minds, including 1) what is he hiding? and 2) how can he possibly be fumbling this question after five years of running for President? In other words, either his ethics or his competence were questioned, neither of which is a good thing for someone running for President as an ethical and competent man.
Voters are smart enough to figure out Mr. Gingrich. I fear South Carolina's role of picking Republican nominees has come to an end, in the interest of voters sending a serious message of discontent to the eventual GOP standard bearer. Mr. Romney MUST take this seriously. His decision this morning to release his 2010 tax returns is the right one--doing so on the day of the State of the Union Address is also a good tactical move. But he damn sure better be ready to explain them in a way that Americans can at least then sit back and say, "ok--he's not dishonest, and he's got his stuff in one sock." He doesn't have to be the high school debate champion--he simply needs to re-instill confidence that he can go toe-to-toe with Obama.
Romney has said from the beginning that this would be an extended process--without I think, believing that it would be true. Well, it is now. Time to put that Bain, Olympic competence to work.