A demise that can only be explained as self-inflicted: Mitt Romney is guilty of extremely bad timing -- ultimately, of shooting himself in the foot.
Let's put aside the obvious and historical tidbits. Yes, one state doesn't decide the nomination -- despite South Carolina's history of picking the winner since its primary began in 1980.
Team Romney thought he had locked up the nomination, and along with this fatal thought, South Carolina was only supposed to start the coronation.
However it begs the question: Who is advising this man?
Up until this point Romney had run a disciplined and self-controlled campaign, and had effectively punted on questions regarding his taxes -- but he now has to live with the fact that If he had only delayed his tax rate answer of "probably closer to 15 percent than anything," for about another week, he might have won South Carolina. Surely he would have had a stronger showing.
Stated plainly, whatever campaign aide that permitted Romney to answer the question that way should be fired immediately.
One way of looking at this is Romney is still the prohibitive favorite to win the Republican nomination. In Florida after all, Romney has the finances to handle the expensive media market of a large state, and also has a much superior ground game than Gingrich. But another way of observing this situation, could this be the beginning of the end for Romney and if so, was it all self-inflicted? At a minimum, the aura of inevitability is gone.
Romney's own comments opened a floodgate, a death of a thousand cuts, suggesting that one of the wealthiest people to ever run for U.S. President pays a much lower tax rate than most Americans. The White House moved quickly to portray Romney as an elitist.
It only got worse. At the first debate in South Carolina, Romney hemmed and hawed about releasing his returns, only committing to saying he would "probably" put them out in April. At the next debate, when given another chance on the question and asked if he'd release 12 years of tax returns like his father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney (R) did during his presidential run, he seemed ill-prepared once again.
"Maybe," Romney said, laughing. "I'll release multiple years. I don't know how many years."
Many in the crowd booed and jeered.
There was more drip-drip-drip of negativity -- the questions of why Romney keeps part of his fortune in the Cayman Islands. Though, his campaign says he does not receive a tax break on the money there.
The icing on the cake -- Romney also said he had earned "a little bit of income" from his book, which he donated to charity, and "speakers' fees from time to time, but not very much."
Romney earned almost $375,000 in speaking fees from Feb. 26, 2010, to Feb. 20, 2011, according to his personal financial disclosure. He reported between $190 million and $250 million in assets.
So forget that coronation.
Now, the former governor is spending much of his time on the defensive, struggling to put to rest the questions about his tax returns and personal fortune.
At least in Florida, the next state to vote, Romney holds a double digit lead in the polls... but wait, he had the same lead in South Carolina.
Awaiting the candidates are two more debates. However the entire country now knows those are events in which Gingrich excels and Romney struggles.
While serving as the political anchor for NY1 News, I interviewed Gingrich live over the years, numerous times on television, and team Romney has learned a tough lesson (advice I could have provided for free) and that is -- never count Gingrich out (also that Gingrich is excellent at completely spinning any negative situation he is in, or facing).
A plus for Romney, at least the upcoming caucuses and primaries are mostly in states that are more moderate than South Carolina: Nevada, Maine, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri, Arizona, and Michigan.
Can Romney regain the momentum or will there be more gaffes?