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Column: GOP Remains Divided

Heights Columnist

Published: Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

Three states. Three Republican primaries. Three different winners. Lord help us.

Primary season just got a whole lot more interesting, thanks to Newt Gingrich's savage walloping of the remaining candidates in South Carolina last Saturday. Gingrich captured around 75,000 more votes than second-place Romney, by far the most decisive win for any candidate thus far in terms of absolute numbers. So overwhelming was his victory that Gingrich received several million dollars in campaign donations shortly thereafter, meaning his pockets will be deep enough to continue the fight (i.e. further divide the Republican base) for at least a little while longer.

So there still is no clear frontrunner for the Republican nomination, and that is very bad news for anyone who doesn't want to see Barack Obama sitting in the Oval Office a year from now. As of now, Gingrich and Romney are vying for the top spot in Florida, with Santorum being of no consequence and Paul not even making the effort to campaign there. Gingrich is ahead in the polls at the moment, but that could change at the drop of a hat, depending on whose performance in tonight's debate is more impressive and whose mudslinging is more effective.

And rest assured, there will be mud.

Romney is already running an ad in Florida in which he attacks Gingrich as having "cashed in as a D.C. insider" during the housing collapse and as having been "sanctioned for ethics violations" that led him to "resign from Congress in disgrace." Gingrich has yet to retaliate, but it's unlikely that he will take such a venomous attack in stride.

This is all certain to fill Obama with glee, as he will be counting on the Republican candidates to make one another look so incompetent and unqualified that they will simply no longer be electable. Romney has already done a number on himself in that regard with some of the imbecilic comments he's made. In New Hampshire, he referred to the president as "a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy," a not-so-subtle reference to Obama's rhetoric regarding income inequality. That is not likely to garner votes for Romney, who already has a reputation as a callous and voracious capitalist who cares little for people below his tax bracket.

That is something Obama will take advantage of if Romney ends up winning the nomination, which I believe he will. During his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, the president unambiguously took a shot at Romney, saying that "When Americans talk about folks like me paying my fair share of taxes, it's not because they envy the rich."

Discreet quips like that might be Obama's weapon of choice, but they simply aren't a part of Gingrich or Romney's arsenal. The only way either of them knows how to play is dirty. That may prove to be a successful strategy during the primaries, but if that's the game the Republicans want to play when the presidential election comes, then it would behoove them to tone down the rhetoric, lest they give Obama's campaign extra munitions for the fight.

But until that time comes, Romney and Gingrich will continue to beat the hell out of one another, much to the chagrin of those Republicans who understand the importance of GOP party unity, of which there is hardly a semblance at the moment.

Stay tuned for what happens in Florida, though, as it could irreversibly swing momentum in favor of whoever wins it.

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