Even if we know the likely outcome, it seems the Republican primary battle will grind on for months. Newt Gingrich, having been thrashed in the Florida primary, gave a speech that conceded nothing. He painted the campaign as a struggle between a “Massachusetts moderate” -- that would be Mitt Romney, the Florida primary winner, whose name Gingrich did not deign to speak -- and a true conservative. At stake, he said, is the future of the nation. He quoted Lincoln at Gettysburg. He spelled out, in detail, the executive actions he intended to take between his swearing-in as president and the first of the evening’s inaugural balls. Even by the standards of a man who can be grandiloquent ordering breakfast, Gingrich was over the top. Those words about fighting all the way to the convention will not be easy to take back.
I thought this whole thing was over when Romney won New Hampshire, but I didn’t realize how persistent the party’s conservative wing would be in demanding an alternative. Nor did I forsee that the fight between Romney and Gingrich would become personal -- or that the race would begin to look like a battle for the party’s soul.
Gingrich, elected to Congress from Georgia, has now won in South Carolina and in the Florida panhandle counties that are more like Georgia or Alabama than like South Beach. The Republican Party’s conservative base is in the South. If voters in the GOP heartland continue to prefer Gingrich’s version of Republicanism to Romney’s, we’re going to have to keep meeting like this for some time.
More opinions on the Florida primary