With two days until a vote, South Carolina’s primary has been rocked by a triple whammy of scandal and confusion, putting Mitt Romney’s easy walk to victory in serious doubt. In a space of a few hours this morning:

  • Rick Perry announced that he was bowing out of the race, and endorsing Newt Gingrich. Perry, who had been polling at 4%, a meteoric fall from polling in the 30s in 2011, learnt yesterday that his co-campaign chair, John Stemberger, had withdrawn his support, saying Perry wasn’t up to it, and switching his support to Rick Santorum.
  • The Iowa Republican Party announced that Rick Santorum had in fact won the Iowa caucus, by about 30 votes. However an official result couldn’t be verified, as eight precincts (out of 1000, covering a total of less than 100,000 votes) had no written record of their vote.
  • The ABC network announced that it would be screening an interview with Gingrich’s second wife, Marianne, after tonight’s debate, and released a taster in which Marianne recounted how Newt had asked her for an “open marriage”, so that he could continue his affair with his mistress (and current wife) Callista.

That was by lunchtime.

The result — well, who knows? Perry’s departure at this point may assist with 1% or 2% of the vote — enough to push Gingrich over the top — but had he got out after Iowa, and thrown his 10% base to one or t’other of Santorum or Gingrich, Romney might well be running second in South Carolina by now.

He had been persuaded back in by his gormless family, and with the hope that he could win Texas, his home state, a winner-take-all primary, and thus have 150-plus delegates to throw around at the Convention. But by Wednesday it appeared that even Texas was slipping away from him, which would have been a further humiliation to a candidate who has gone, in the space of a year, from being a mysterious and dashing Texas giant, to being a late-night punchline.

He has also perhaps become the second victim of the Colbert “bump” — the fact that he may be polling below Comedy Central presenter Stephen Colbert, a native South Carolinian, who announced last week that he was running for “President of South Carolina”. Polling below Colbert appeared to be the final ignominy for the hapless Jon Huntsman, and it may have finished off Perry too. The pressure was off for a while, after it became clear that there was no capacity for write-in candidates on the SC ballot.

Colbert has now solved that problem — by urging people to vote for Herman Cain, who is on the ballot, and aided by the SuperPAC, “For a better tomorrow, tomorrow” running ads in which a vote for “Herman Cain” is urged over pictures of Colbert.

Herman Cain, the poor desperate booby, has been happy to get in on the act, and will be appearing with Colbert in a rally in Charleston tomorrow. Today he made an endorsement … of no one, endorsing “we the people”. Jesus.

With Perry endorsing Gingrich as a “conservative visionary”, Newt could have tried afresh to get Santorum to withdraw from the race to go over the top against Mitt. But the Iowa victory for Santorum makes it impossible to get that — and impossible even if Santorum wanted to. The victory is ludicrous of course — no one knows who won Iowa, and anyone who did, did so by a dozen votes or so.

There’s a reason the Iowa caucus wasn’t the first contest, prior to 1972 — because it’s rubbery as hell, all these people tallying votes in their kitchen, and delegates aren’t bound anyway. Had Santorum been announced as the winner at the time, no great difference would have been made to the New Hampshire poll.

But going into South Carolina it might have been an entirely different matter. Even now, it may throw a few votes back towards him, and thus muddy the waters further.

For Gingrich, it is going to be a hell of a 48 hours. Four polls have him leading Romney by two to four points, a turnaround based on his strong debate performances, and his rousing town hall meetings, the only such gatherings (aside from Ron Paul’s) with any energy.

And now … now he might see that dashed by an hour interview in which his wife tells of the way in which he approached her for an open marriage so he could effectively set up a European marriage, chiding his wife for wanting him “all to herself”.

Marianne Gingrich looks like the scorned woman, middle-aged, a bit baggy, a little sad, compared to the blondebot Callista who replaced her. Is it real? Is it an act? Who knows, but she gives the appearance of a woman used up and discarded by a huge egomaniac man-baby whom she loved, but was not loved back by.

Gingrich may not be able to get out of this one with his usual pious “I made mistakes” bullshit, because this is so calculated in the telling that it reminds people that Gingrich is a member of the elite he purports to despise, and with the same humanistic morals — the idea that *gasp* relationships are between people, and not arranged by Jesus in heaven — of most of the rest of us.

But beyond that, he’s just going to sound like a prick — he’s going to sound worse than most of us. Revenge is best served cold, they say. Marianne Gingrich is dishing up a Bose-Einstein condensate, a single quantum wave of hate moving towards Romney.

Nevertheless, even if he loses, Gingrich will stay — unless the polls are completely delusional and he’s still in the basement. He is tracking across the vast wastes towards the winner-take-all primaries, where who knows who knows who knows? There’s a lot of mornings still to go.

Peter Fray

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