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9.54 pm. I'm done now. Enjoy your Saturday night. My take away? This is the Republican crack-up people have been predicting for years. Gingrich is on a roll. I think he can win this – and then lose this in a way that could change America history. That is a brief impression in one moment of time. But I cannot see Romney winning this at this point. They are just not into him, and he's an awful candidate.

9.35 pm. The core of the speech: Gingrich is fighting the "elites" who for 35 years have been trying to turn America into something else. This is a former Speaker of the House, and a denizen of the Washington trough. And he still sees himself as an outsider. But he's playing nice tonight – especially with Santorum. Is he trying to charm him out of the race? Then he endorses Ron Paul's view on the Federal Reserve. And praises Romney as a good organizer. These individuals are somehow a response to the "elites". Even a multi-millionaire son of a former governor.

Then the Obama-Is-An-Alien line: "we will run an American campaign, not a Republican one." All the Republican candidates are Americans. But the elites are not. Key phrase: "Think of how radical Obama would be in his second term." Then the condescension toward this "absurdity" of a president. And the TelePrompter gag. Do these people really buy into the idea that Obama is unable to articulate himself?

And we have the core McCarthyite theme: American exceptionalism versus the Saul Alinsky radicalism. "We" are Americans. Obama is a traditional America-hater.

Then the religion card: the increasing anti-religious "bigotry" of the elites will be his enemy. He will deploy race and religion and nationalism as his themes. No wonder South Carolina loved him. And rather than retreating on the racially charged "food stamp president" line, he reiterates it.

This is what the GOP now is, and it deserves its spokesman. But do not under-estimate the appeal to some of the idea of humiliating and removing the first black president. That's what Gingrich is really about. He is giving them what they want. And it's meat that has barely seen a skillet.

Now he wants an American energy policy – not Obama's. And he wants US presidents to stop bowing to the Saudi king. He knows in his bones how to work this constituency, while of course, "fundamentally reforming the government at every level."

Then we hear about Obama's "extreme left-wing allies from San Francisco" and now he is a "danger to this country". "He makes Jimmy Carter look strong." He wants the final showdown between America and socialism/Marxism/radicalism/Jihadism/Obama. And the rage among some about a black president actually exercizing authority is real. This man can roil it brutally, shamelessly, mercilessly. And he will.

9.30 pm. Newt speaks. Callista remains impeccably coiffed.

9.27 pm. Newt is going to be Newt in Florida, airing a Spanish language ad on the radio:

In the piece, a man's voice (not Gingrich) calls Mitt Romney a "liberal" who is "anti-immigrant" and may have "fame" but not be up to the job of president. Perhaps most damning, the ad says, "Mitt Romney goes around using Castro phrases," referring to the 2008 presidential campaign when Romney, campaigning in Miami, mistakenly associated a Fidel Castro slogan with a free Cuba. Romney talked about Patria o muerte, venceremos — Fatherland or death, we shall overcome — a trademark phrase Castro used to close his speeches. Romney's use of the phrase did not sit well with Cuban Americans, who, according to a Miami Herald report at the time, "winced."

9.14 pm. The delegate victory is even more impressive:

Mr. Gingrich is likely to win at least five of seven congressional districts tonight, which would give him at least 21 of the state's 25 delegates. And he could get a clean sweep.

9.11 pm. JPod: "Kind of fascinating to see a political party flirting with marching collectively off a cliff." Fascinating? It's the culmination of everything this degenerate party has stood for. I wonder if Obama will be the president who truly, finally, brings the GOP back to sanity. By thrashing it this fall.

9.09 pm. A reader channels me:

The Bernstein and Larison quotes point to a larger truth: a Gingrich nomination would be poetic justice – or maybe just justice. Gingrich didn't transform the GOP alone, but he is arguably more responsible than any one person for the Republican party becoming the cynical, reckless, destructive piece of shit it is now. I am not a fan of the Reagan Administration, but there is a big difference – as Newt would say a "fundamental" difference – between the party of Reagan and the one Newt was so instrumental in shaping, the current, decadent GOP.

The Republican Party of today is the party of Newt. I think the best bet for reforming it is for Republican grassroots to nominate someone who so thoroughly exemplifies it, and have him lose spectacularly. It would also be cathartic for the country if Obama finally grasped the nettle and took the opportunity to definitively crush, rhetorically as well as electorally, Gingrichism and its variants.

That's the change I've been waiting for.

9.07 pm. Did Newtmentum buoy turnout? Maybe:

Extrapolating from the returns so far suggests that the turnout in South Carolina is up something on the order of 30% from 2008, when it was 445,677. That may turn out not to be the case if the returns so far are from the heavy-voting precincts and so the extrapolation may be unduly high. But if turnout really is up, that is a big contrast from Iowa, where turnout was 3% over 2008 and New Hampshire, where it was up 4%.

9.04 pm. The panic deepens. Rubin:

[F]rom the point of view of Republicans who understand just how toxic Gingrich is beyond the GOP base, the race tonight became “anybody but Newt.”

8.59 pm. The establishment is now panicking enough that a Jeb Bush endorsement of Romney may be imminent. Allahpundit:

Team Mitt would have preferred to roll out the Jeb Bush endorsement closer to the Florida vote, but I guess they’re panicky about a “sinking Romney ship” narrative tomorrow. Three sources are telling CNN tonight that Jeb will in fact endorse Mitt sometime soon. Will that be enough, though, if Santorum drops out? Says PPP, “Florida Santorum voters prefer Newt over Mitt 58-32 … his decision whether to stay in or not will have major implications”.

Ambers has an awesome tweet:

Screen shot 2012-01-21 at 9.02.34 PM

8.56 pm. Megyn Kelly is now apologizing to Sarah Palin, which is, I suppose, "actual journalism" in her mind.

8.54 pm. Santorum is launching a screed against libertarianism; and pitches himself to the working classes who cannot be won over, in his view, by tax cuts alone. It's a distinctive message – and right to worry about the GOP's appeal to the poor and middle class.

Money quote: "It's a wide-open race. Join the fight."

8.52 pm. A reader writes:

You quote Erick Erickson as saying: "Basically, today’s vote is about Republican grassroots giving the Washington Republican establishment the finger." Let me get this straight: Newt Gingrich is … an outsider? Newt? Gingrich? An outsider? Conservatives can say anything, and conservatives will believe anything. Insane.

Another notes:

If you had been raised in the conservative Christian South, you would not be surprised by SC voters' mistrust of Mormonism. My family all came from the deepest of the Deep South (the so-called wiregrass region: north FL, southern AL, SW Georgia), and when my great aunt married a Mormon many many years ago, she was basically shunned until he died, at which point she was allowed to "rejoin" the family. This is nothing new.

But it stands now in full view.

8.50 pm. Buzzfeed has a great image of a web ad that Romney probably wishes he now hadn't run:

Screen shot 2012-01-21 at 8.49.15 PM

8.46 pm. And the "full unconcealed panic" in the establishment breaks out. Dan Foster:

Screen shot 2012-01-21 at 8.46.45 PM

One recalls George Will:

Gingrich … embodies the vanity and rapacity that make modern Washington repulsive…. There is almost artistic vulgarity in Gingrich’s unrepented role as a hired larynx for interests profiting from such government follies as ethanol and cheap mortgages. His Olympian sense of exemption from standards and logic allowed him, fresh from pocketing $1.6 million from Freddie Mac (for services as a “historian”), to say, ‘If you want to put people in jail,’ look at ‘the politicians who profited from’ Washington’s environment.”

8.45 pm. Paul did no better among veterans than among non-veterans.

8.44 pm. And the jokes begin:

Screen shot 2012-01-21 at 8.43.53 PM

8.40 pm. A classic line from Hewitt:

The South Carolina electorate didn’t vote for a person or a platform; they voted for a personality — the fiery, combative, MSM-hating Newt. They want the GOP nominee to charge at the president, throw around the term Alinksyite, push back at John King and Juan Williams, and shout out the absurdity of Barack Obama as president and the destructiveness of his combination of epic incompetence and awful ideology.

The choice of a majority of Americans is an "absurdity". Tells you everything about their mindset.

8.38 pm. Fox's exit poll is even more striking on the Mormon question than CNN's:

Screen shot 2012-01-21 at 8.38.18 PM

8.33 pm. Yes, of course, Newt can win Florida. Even with the early voting. Silver:

[I]f you weight tonight's South Carolina vote to resemble Florida's ideological dispositions from 2008, Mr. Gingrich would still win there by a 37 to 29 margin.

A Republican operative tells Time:

Florida will be more delegates than all other races (so far) combined and will be rocket fuel for Newtie as he comes out of here. McCain had zero people in Florida until a couple days after South Carolina [in 2008]. Ground game is not a factor in presidential primaries in Florida. Momentum and being a conservative is. Mitt isn't running as a conservative. His only hope was the fool's errand of inevitability.

8.32 pm. Paul: "We are the next generation." And a swipe at SOPA and the NDAA.

8.26 pm. With 38 percent in, Gingrich is at 41 to Mitt's 26: a brutal 15 point margin. I don't think this is a bump in Romney's road. I think it's much deeper. Dougherty is onto something:

The Romney campaign has spent more money and built a more robust organization in South Carolina than anyone else. They have two campaign offices in the state and has been flooding inboxes with mailers and issuing personalized robo-calls across the state. "Hello, Smith Family, I'm Mitt Romney." Romney also had two absolutely terrible debate performances. And he was leading in polls when the week began. So there is not going to be any "moral victory" in second place.

8.24 pm. Michael Graham notes:

Seriously, cannot overstate the historic SC vote. Mitt the first establishment frontrunner to lose SC GOP primary EVER. As in "EVER."

But Reagan beat Ford there in 1976.

8.20 pm. Ron Paul notes that less than 2 percent of the delegates have been selected so far. I love his connection between liberty and peace and prosperity. For the neocons, liberty means a license to wage war.

He also notes that he got four to five times the votes he got four years ago in South Carolina.

8.11 pm. In a state where African-Americans make up 28 percent of the electorate and 1 percent of the voters in the primary today. That's him above. But what an indictment of a party that in a diverse state, 99 percent of the voters were white. Look at this:

Screen shot 2012-01-21 at 8.13.42 PM

If I were a Republican, I'd be ashamed. But Gingrich won, I think, because shame is alien to him. Especially when it comes to race.

8.07 pm. Romney's speech is a little hackneyed, but focuses in the end on Gingrich, someone "who hasn't run a business or run a government." He attacks Gingrich for "picking up the weapons of the left" today. He is sticking to his defense of Bain Capital as indistinguishable from capitalism itself. That argument didn't work in South Carolina, and it remains weak, weak, weak.

Romney also warns he will compete in every single state, including Virginia, where Newt didn't qualify. He speaks of a primary campaign that could last months.

8.06 pm. Hugh Hewitt does his best:

I suspect that the GOP as a whole has a lot of this pent-up anger at the Manhattan-Beltway media elites, and they too have been cool to cool hand Mitt as a result. But if, having been indulged, that passion for a political fistfight ebbs and the desire to win grows, Romney will be a much, much better nominee for having blown a round on points and too timid by far a strategy.

7.59 pm. Fox is actually mentioning the Mormon question. Steve Hayes is pushing back.

It's also worth noting that Romney lost the poorer vote, and the more economically distressed vote by a big amount. That's a profound weakness in this economy, especially in the fall. I increasingly think Romney is weaker than Gingrich up against Obama. And a Romney loss to Obama would only move the GOP even further to the extreme right afterwards. A Gingrich loss to Obama, in contrast, would concentrate the conservative mind wonderfully. Even wake it up out of its stupor.

7.55 pm. Balko tweets:

The good news if Newt wins: We won't hear all the family values crap in the general election. And if we do, it will at least be hysterical.

Oh, we'll hear it. The issue has never been actual behavior. In the current GOP, heterosexuals are to be forgiven; homosexuals are to be damned. Newt and Callista will attack gay marriage with full guns blazing.

7.52 pm. Krauthammer classic: "Humility is not my strong suit."

7.51 pm. It's rare that bigotry hurts the GOP. But it sure hurt Romney tonight. 12 percent said they wouldn't support Romney if he were the nominee, and 48 percent said they would only do so with reservations. How do you rally your base as you must against Obama with numbers like this?

7.45 pm. Even over at PJMedia, some are noticing the evangelical Mormon problem – both in South Carolina and for the fall:

Mormonism was one reason Romney lost South Carolina. Exit polls show that most South Carolina voters wanted a candidate that shared similar religious views. Romney lost big among those voters. Note, I am not describing what ought to be, but rather what the data show is happening. This does not bode well for Romney’s electability in the fall. Evangelicals are the base of the GOP. If they stay home, Republicans lose …

Maybe that's why South Carolinian Republicans believe Gingrich is more electable. They know their own voters. And Hewitt wept:

Screen shot 2012-01-21 at 7.48.22 PM

Among those who take the religious identity of the candidates seriously, Romney was trounced by Gingrich and Santorum.

7.42 pm. The base is mad and this is the result of their madness. That's Erickson's line:

Basically, today’s vote is about Republican grassroots giving the Washington Republican establishment the finger. The base is angry, and right now, only Newt is left to fight for them, as imperfect as he is. We may still end up with Romney, but voters aren’t going to let him have it easily.

7.41 pm. Newt is regarded by the South Carolinians as the best man to defeat Obama in the fall – based on the debates, mainly. There is a problem with this, as Andrew Romano explains:

The problem is that a general-election campaign isn’t just two candidates debating each other to death, a fantasy that a lot of Gingrich voters seem to be clinging to and that Newt seems eager to encourage, what with his incessant chatter about challenging Obama to seven Lincoln-Douglas-style confrontations. A general election is turnout and field and registration and microtargeting and data-mining and fundraising and message control and so on. You know, the stuff that both Romney and Obama do well. The traditional stuff. … Nontraditional may win debates. Traditional wins elections.

7.40 pm. Tweet of the night:

Given what South Carolina did tonight to keep a black man in office, I think they've atoned for any previous racism.

7.36 pm. Romney won only 22 percent of evangelicals. He can't win the nomination for a Christianist party, if that persists elsewhere.

7.32 pm. Romney has a class problem. He only won among those earning over $200,000 a year. "Not very much", of course, for Romney. But very wealthy for most everyone else.

7.30 pm. Exit poll crack: the under-30s went for Ron Paul again, even in the South. Paul beat Romney among the under 44s. Only the seniors seemed immune to the 76 year-old. 

7.24 pm. So far, the Mormon issue hasn't been addressed. But an early exit poll found 57 percent saying it’s very important that a candidate share their religious beliefs – and 46% of those voters went for Newt. Romney got 22%. For non-Christianists, in contrast, Romney won by 43 to 29 percent. If you build a political party on sectarian foundations, as the current GOP has been, then you won't be able to have a Mormon nominee. This was always going to be an issue in the South – and it looks as if we now have proof.

7.20 pm. Who just won this? This guy, as once memorably profiled by Connie Bruck:

The biggest hurdle confronting Gingrich is the one he has until now managed never to take: appealing to the broad mass of the American people. It seems extremely unlikely that in reasonably normal times in this country Gingrich could prevail in a national election. But the worse the crisis, the better for Gingrich; the greater the insecurity and despair, the more seductive his veiled scapegoating, his absolutism, and his messianism would become. Gingrich plays by his own rules. By being engaging and colorful and dynamic–by staging bravura performances–he usually gets away with it on matters large and small.

He just got away with something quite large. I'm mildly amazed.

7.19 pm. Nate urges caution:

Screen shot 2012-01-21 at 7.19.05 PM

7.17 pm. The scene at Romney's HQ 50 minutes ago:

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7.15 pm. Well, the Super PACs were bested by the debates. That's where Gingrich beat Romney, where he tapped into Southern sensibility, where he persuaded a majority he'd be a stronger rival for president Obama. He won most of the late deciders. Both this race and Iowa's were determined in the last few days. And the Paul-Santorum struggle for third place is extremely tight.

7.13 pm. Gingrich wins among married women. I didn't make that up. And he beats Romney 48 – 39 on electability. Mitt's melting. He's melting.

7.12 pm. Here's the SC Google search results for Gingrich:

Gingrich google searches SC

7.07 pm. Will a Gingrich win here change everything? One reader thinks not:

Maybe I'll feel differently when the SC vote actually comes in, and Mitt loses badly, but I cannot shake the feeling that South Carolina is so different than the rest of the country.  You Lie, pride in treason, hit pieces using John McCain's children, etc–these are things that play well there.  Surely, the rest of the country is more like Iowa and New Hampshire (where Newt placed fourth), than SC.  Right?  The South doesn't vote again until Super Tuesday, March 6th.  Nine states take the stage in between.  Sure, Romney could lose, but let a little time pass after this SC politico blood frenzy, and I think Newt ends up a footnote in the Romney nomination story. Right?  
Gingrich. Really?

Really.

 7.05 pm. Some South Carolina readers check in:

Just voted in Charleston.  Our precinct always has very high turn-out and is leans overwhelmingly to the left – today was no exception.  I cast my vote for Paul; however, I spoke to many who were voting for Gingrich, hoping to watch him get smeared in the general election.  I hope they aren't playing with fire.

Another:

Just returned from voting in the primary. I'm in Spartanburg, part of the very conservative Upstate that went for Huckabee over McCain in 2008. I was #187 in my precinct. In front of me in line, two white guys: one with close-cropped hair, wearing a camo hunting jacket over his Clemson sweatshirt, and the other with a Van Dyke and dreds down to his butt. Not certain if he was for Ron Paul or rocking like a Herman Cain, but I'm pretty sure those were the only options. Gotta love democracy!
7 pm. All the exit polls show a Gingrich victory. Amazing. Romney is reeling.

(Photo: A voter leaves a polling station in a rural farming area during the state's primary election on January 21, 2012 in New Hope, South Carolina. By Richard Ellis/Getty Images)