Romney stepped up his rhetoric against Gingrich in his concession speech Saturday night. “Our president has divided the nation, engaged in class warfare and attacked the free enterprise system that has made America the economic envy of the world," he said. "We cannot defeat that president with a candidate who has joined in that very assault on free enterprise."
Still, Romney advisers know they can only vanquish Gingrich by doing more to quiet concerns raised by his shaky answers on personal wealth and his income tax history. The campaign delayed a release of tax documents to make sure it would not happen in waves and that whatever publicity surrounding it could be contained in a one-day news cycle. That was a strategy built around the long game. It cost them precious ground and voter credibility in South Carolina. Those close to the campaign say the move is afoot to get the documents and the narrative ready as soon as possible -- and for more years than the one Gingrich has released. In essence, in a new state of Florida the Romney team wants to argue it said more and released more than Gingrich and Santorum (who says his forms will come out in months) and Paul (who won't release them at all). Until that happens, the questions will persist.
And on this issue, on questions about Romney's stewardship of the private equity firm Bain Capital, a disturbing pattern has begun to emerge -- Romney's surrogates answer questions more sharply and with more evident passion than Romney. That can and does work on arcane policy questions. It does not work on matters at the heart of a candidate's own story. Team Romney knows that was never more visibly on display than in South Carolina.
As the candidates head to Florida, Romney and his team know they have to learn from defeat and adapt quickly even as they use their money and organization. Florida is all about Romney and Gingrich. Gingrich has the momentum and all that comes with it - money, curiosity, volunteers and scrutiny. The first three are blessings. The last could be a curse - it has been before. Romney arrives wounded and humbled. His campaign team is cranky and Romney will have to steady the ship and find a stronger voice about his life story, his financial history and his philosophical core.
These have been the weaknesses at the heart of the Romney campaign from the start. That South Carolina exposed them so gruesomely might, in the end, be just what Romney needed. If not, South Carolina did more than let loose a primal scream.