What did we learn from Newt Gingrich's 12-point romp in the South Carolina primary?
Here are my five key takeaways:
1. Mitt's Mormonism Mattered
It's uncomfortable to write about, but you can't look at the exit polling from South Carolina and not conclude that Romney's religion was on the ballot on Saturday.
Romney lost nearly 8 out of 10 votes cast by evangelicals – which is all the more remarkable considering that these voters threw in their lot overwhelmingly with Catholic candidates. Catholics have not often been embraced in this corner of the Deep South. As recently as 2000, the website of Bob Jones University – the Harvard, if you like, of fundamentalist education in the Palmetto state – wrote that the Catholic church is a "false system that has enslaved" the souls of its practicioners.
But even Greenville County, home to Bob Jones, the thrice-married Catholic philanderer Gingrich won in a 15-point rout over Romney. Statewide, Romney actually won the nonevangelical vote by 5 percent. But he was resoundlingly rejected by the six in ten voters who said that having a candidate who shared their religious beliefs mattered.
2. GOP voters are delusional on "electability"
More than half of GOP voters in South Carolina said they cast their ballots based on thier favored candidate's ability to defeat president Obama in the general election. Yet these voters swung 51-37 for Gingrich over Romney. Gingrich clearly showed more fight in the debates, but this result is just ... whoa! There's not a candidate in the race who's approval rating nationally is lower than Gingrich's 26.5 percent. Romney's unfavorable rating has spiked in recent weeks, but he's still a good 14 percentage points less despised across the country than Newt.
3. Bain really is a bane
The GOP is America's pro-business party, but even stalwart Republicans have substantial misgivings about the way Mitt Romney got rich. Romney's "background of investing in and restructuring companies" was viewed negatively by 28 percent of the electorate on Saturday. The only segment of the electorate that Romney won convincingly was the 5 percent of voters earning more than $200,000 a year.
4. The Republican Party is for white people
This was the third consecutive GOP contest in which 99 percent of voters were white. But unlike the caucasian meccas of Iowa and New Hampshire, South Carolina is only 64 percent white. Enough said.
5. Romney makes an unconvincing hardliner
On social issues, Romney has toed a hard-right line this primary season, presenting himself in particular as a champion of the pro-life cause. Voters in South Carolina didn't believe him. Romney won convincingly among the third of the GOP electorate that thinks abortion should be legal. He registered only two percent support among the segment of voters who said their top criteria was backing a candidate who is a "true conservative."