Newt Gingrich wins South Carolina, going away. Why do you suppose that happened? It's pretty simple, really. He's out there throwing haymakers. He's willing to do whatever it takes to win, even if it means blowing up his fellow Republicans. He's working the passion angle very well right now. And primary voters tend to be more passionate than the overall electorate.
We can safely assume that the Obama campaign is going to be fear and loathing all the way, since he'll not be able to defend his record, which has fallen far short of the myriad promises he made. Even if we had better Republican choices than we do, any Republican that runs for office these days is going to be vilified. That's just the way it is.
If Newt Gingrich has any advantage, it's that his villainy is pretty much out there and not much of a revelation to anyone. For anyone over the age of 30 who was even remotely paying attention, Newt is well known. There's really not that much we can be told about him that we don't already know. And to a certain extent, the experience of living through Bill Clinton's presidency is crucial to what is happening. By the end of his term, everyone in the world recognized that Bill Clinton was a world-class scoundrel and a moral reprobate, but even his harshest critics had to admit that he was a smart dude. Gingrich offers a similar profile, at least in some ways.
As for Romney, he's still in a better position, but he has problems to face. Much has been made about the idea of income inequality driving this election, which makes sense because that is the ground Obama would prefer to fight upon, but I really don't think that's it. What I think might turn this election isn't economic populism as much as it is a revolt against elitism. And that's Romney's problem. When people compare Romney to John Kerry, this is what they mean. Romney has the bearing of an elitist -- he can't be a man of the people because he's never been one.
We've had a lot of elitists lately. Obama masked his own elitism fairly well until he got into office. The various Bushes who have been in office were elitists, too. I'm getting a Jacksonian vibe right now and while it would be ridiculous to understand Gingrich as an Andrew Jackson-style outsider, he's enough of a ruffian that he's getting traction. Romney will never be anything other than an elitist. If that flavor is out of favor, he's going to be a tough sell.