Final polling released ahead of today's primary vote in South Carolina shows Newt Gingrich leading Mitt Romney 40 to 26. Two weeks ago those numbers were nearly reversed, with Romney ahead 37 to 24, and the conventional wisdom was that Romney was poised to wrap up the nomination early.
That was before Newt Gingrich went full-on racist, and the traditional campaign model of presenting your plans for the country has now almost entirely evaporated from the Gingrich campaign and has been replaced by an insufferable reinforcement of existing voter prejudices.
What began with vague statements that poor children should work as janitors, followed by comments Gingrich made about blacks demanding paychecks instead of food stamps, culminated in putting Fox News contributor Juan Williams "in his place," as one Gingrich supporter put it. The following day, Newt said work is a "strange" and "distant" concept to Juan Williams. Ya' know, because he's black. Wink. Nod.
Ever since Gingrich's petulance during the past week's GOP debates, his rise in the polls has been irreversible. Even an accusation from Newt's former wife, Marianne Gingrich, that he requested an open marriage and cheated on her in her own bed was not enough to stop Newt's racist momentum, and this momentum could carry him to victory in other southern states.
It seems likely Mitt Romney will still end up as the Republican nominee for president, however Gingrich could isolate the southern vote if other states in the region prove to be as receptive to Newt's dog-whistling as South Carolina has been. And if that is the case, Mitt Romney could be the weakest nominee for president we've seen in decades.
Then again, if Team Romney doesn't produce a better explanation for his shady financial record, off-shored wealth, and pathological flip-flopping in the very near future, he may not be the nominee. Newt's success today on the back of the southern strategy may give the impression to future primary voters that there is an alternative.