Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich - AFP - December 10, 2011
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (L) attacks former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich during the ABC News GOP Presidential debate on the campus of Drake University on December 10, 2011. Photo by AFP
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Mitt Romney was at his best last night. Immediately after the results of the New Hampshire primaries were announced, Romney gave an articulate and forceful victory speech, one of the best of the campaign so far, befitting the first Republican in history who is not an incumbent president to win back-to-back victories in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Surrounded by his admiring family members and enthusiastic supporters, Romney dismissed his “desperate” Republican rivals, lambasted President Obama’s policies, didn’t forget to express his unwavering support for Israel and looked exactly like someone who has already been anointed as the Republican candidate for the presidency.

If it was up to Romney, the Republican establishment and several media commentators who appear to have tired of the Republican primaries from the outset – the primary season would already be over, Romney would be declared the decisive winner and Republicans could get on with the business of fighting Obama. That view, however, is not shared by the other candidates, who remain in the ring or by Evangelical leaders and Tea Party activists who are likely to make one more attempt, probably their last, to find an agreed candidate who might focus the conservative votes that are currently dispersing all over the place.

With the exception of the non-conformist, isolationist and visibly-enjoying-himself candidate Ron Paul, whose second-place finish apparently ensures his continued participation in the race for many weeks to come – for the other four candidates the upcoming South Carolina primaries are a make or break proposition. The relatively moderate Jon Huntsman did well in New Hampshire, but possibly not well enough to give him the momentum he needed for future primaries; former Texas governor and devout Protestant Rick Perry skipped relatively moderate New Hampshire but will probably have to retire from the race if he doesn’t do well in conservative South Carolina; and former senator Rick Santorum will have to work hard to prove that he is still the meteor from Iowa and not the falling star from New Hampshire.

But the most crucial and potentially dangerous battle for Romney – which observers are already describing with unhidden relish as an unprecedented “bloodbath” - will be against Newt Gingrich. The former Speaker still has hopes of making a strong comeback in North Carolina, but he is also said to be hungry for revenge for the fatal campaign waged against him by the pro-Romney Super-PAC in Iowa.

Hurt, wounded and newly armed with a five million dollar check reportedly given to him by Sheldon Adelson – which was the hot topic of the day in American media on Tuesday – Gingrich has already purchased millions of dollars of advertising time in South Carolina in which he intends to attack Romney for what Israelis call “swinish capitalism” during his time at Bain Capital. And Romney people have pledged to respond with millions of dollars of anti-Gingrich advertising in return.

Republican leaders are afraid that Gingrich will wage an all-out, scorched earth, take-no-prisoners war against Romney, whatever the consequences. Coupled with Romney’s taken-out-of-context statement this week “I like to be able to fire people”, many Republicans fear that the only person likely to gain from Gingrich’s onslaught will be Barack Obama.