The fight for the GOP presidential nomination continues, and South Carolina will undoubtedly play a key role in securing a candidate. E.J. Dionne writes in his new column, “Romney And The South Carolina Conundrum”:
Can Mitt Romney be dislodged as the fragile but disciplined front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination? If he can, South Carolina is the best bet for the role of spoiler.
Republican primary voters here have historically ratified establishment choices, but the old establishment has been displaced by new forms of conservative political activism, the tea party being only the latest band of rebels.
South Carolina conservatives also seem representative of their peers around the country in being uncertain and more than a trifle confused about the choices they have been handed. They are skeptical of Romney, disappointed by Rick Perry’s early performance, were enchanted by Herman Cain — a spell that may soon be broken — and are not sure what to make of the rest of the field.
All this, paradoxically, gives hope to the non-Romneys in the contest, including Perry but also former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who was campaigning in the state this week. Huntsman, given his low standing in the national polls, has a surprising number of high-powered supporters here. His strategy is to startle with a strong showing in the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 10 and then pivot to South Carolina, which votes on Jan. 21. This seems unlikely, but not crazy.
“I have never seen a Republican primary as wide open at this stage as this primary is,” said Bob McAlister, a Huntsman supporter who served as chief of staff to former Gov. Carroll Campbell.