Newt Gingrich's surge to success in South Carolina has surely brought joy to the Obama White House.
For his 12-point victory ensures the fight for the GOP nomination will not end soon and will get nastier. Indeed, it already has. Whether Newt or Mitt Romney emerges victorious, the candidate who comes out of the Republican convention will be bruised and bloodied.
Consider, first, Newt.
According to a Fox News poll, 56 percent of the American people have an unfavorable opinion of the former speaker. Only 27 percent hold a favorable opinion. By two to one, the nation has a negative view of Newt. And as Newt has been a national figure for two decades, to reverse the impression he has left on the country would require an immense volume of positive media, free and bought.
And Newt is getting neither.
Now, in Florida, Romney has decided to tear the scab off, and 24 hours after his South Carolina defeat, he is busy at it.
Newt, said Mitt, "was a leader for four years as speaker of the House. ... And at the end of four years ... he was a failed leader, and he had to resign in disgrace. ... He was investigated (by) an ethics panel and had to make a payment associated with that, and then ... 88 percent of his (fellow) Republicans voted to reprimand Speaker Gingrich."
"What's (Newt) been doing for 15 years?" Mitt asked. "He's been working as a lobbyist ... and selling influence around Washington."
Mitt did not bring up Newt's three wives and the tawdry tale told by second wife Marianne to ABC. Yet the super PACs of the Democratic Party will make sure the women of America know how Newt treated his first two wives, should he become the nominee.
Yet Mitt has his own problems, after his worst week in South Carolina.
By going negative on Newt, he will drive Newt's negatives higher. But attack politics polarizes a party and drives up the negatives of the attacker, as well. The Eagle Scout image of Mitt will suffer -- both from what Newt is doing to him and from what he feels he must do to Newt.
Rep. Dick Gephardt decided he had to take down Howard Dean, who was riding high in Iowa in 2004. Gephardt ended up taking both of them down. John Kerry evaded the bloodletting, won the caucuses and cruised to the nomination.
Mitt has suffered, too, from the malicious portrayal of his days at Bain Capital by Gingrich and Rick Perry, who portrayed Bain as a vulture sitting on a tree limb, looking for sick companies to swoop down on, pick the carcass clean and leave a skeleton.
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