The “South Carolina vote,” writes Tim Stanley in the Telegraph, “was really a referendum on [Mitt] Romney”. Indeed. The man who rescued the 2002 Olympics tumbled from a commanding lead in the polls last week to a resounding defeat last night.
The on-and-off again Republican frontrunner spent the last week playing defense. He could have learned, like Newt, to turn attacks to his advantage.
For example, in the debate, when John King asked Romney about his tax returns, he should have responded that he will release them just as soon as Barack Obama releases his college transcripts, then ask Mr. King how extensively his network had covered the incumbent’s failure to release a great variety of documents.
He would have concluded by adding that he would release them in short order. The takeaway wouldn’t be so much the release as it was his ability to take on the media. And he would remind voters that Obama hasn’t been as transparent in office as his 2008 rhetoric suggested he would be.*
Romney also could have turned an attack into an opportunity if he had responded to attacks on his work at Bain by offering a robust defense of venture capitalism.
Those mistakes notwithstanding, Romney’s real problem appears to be something else, what one erstwhile Huntsman supporter called the former Massachusetts governor’s “connection problem”, as Byron York reports:
[South Carolina] Attorney General Henry McMaster, was also aligned with Huntsman until Monday, and he too chose Gingrich instead of Romney. McMaster cited Gingrich’s performance in the two South Carolina debates as a prime factor in his decision, but he also expressed concern over Romney’s problem engaging voters. “I don’t know why,” McMaster said Saturday night. “I can’t explain it, but there’s a little bit of a connection problem.”
With that problem in mind, let me conclude with a personal reflection. Of the remaining candidates, I remain most likely to vote for Romney, but have yet to announce my support of endorse the former Massachusetts governor. Four years ago, even after being impressed with his performance in the few snippets of debates I watched, I ended up pulling the proverbial lever for John McCain.
*In announcing that he will release the returns Tuesday, Romney acknowledged that he made a “mistake” in not releasing them sooner, calling his error “a distraction.” Ed Morrissey wonders why his campaign didn’t “move to defuse the issue by the second debate by promising to give South Carolinians an opportunity to access those records“.