After having ridden the wave of the media meme that he had won Iowa and New Hampshire in unprecedented fashion, Mitt Romney’s “inevitable” nomination may not be.  We have the news Thursday morning that Rick Santorum actually won in Iowa, and while the media continues to spin that Santorum’s win is a “virtual tie,” they did not say that about Romney when it was thought he had won by a smaller margin.  Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich continues his surge in South Carolina, perhaps mostly unharmed by the seemingly old allegations by an ex-wife that are being pushed in the media.  It’s been announced that one hundred Tea Party leaders in from around the country will be supporting Gingrich, and with the classy, respectful exit of Rick Perry, and his subsequent endorsement of Gingrich, suddenly Romney no longer looks so inevitable, and we can expect this to have serious blow-back in the remaining days of the run-up to the South Carolina primary on Saturday.

What all of this should tell you is what a paper tiger Mitt Romney’s aura of invincibility had been.  Don’t misunderstand, as Mitt is hardly out of the running, but what this shows that his path to the nomination is going to be much more difficult and lengthy than many had assumed.  You also shouldn’t expect any less vigorous a campaign by Romney, while his superPACs will go after Gingrich with guns blazing now.  The next two days will consist of virtual bloodshed, as Romney and his surrogates are going for the throat in all parts of the media.  As I reported Wednesday, the Romney camp will try to push the mantra of Newt’s unreliability, but I don’t think that apt to take hold, because what the public has noticed that despite some anger over his treatment by Romney surrogates in Iowa, Gingrich has apparently returned to his form of November and December, focusing on a more positive message.

On Thursday afternoon, Sarah Palin talked with Sean Hannity on his radio show, and she said she thought the story aimed at Gingrich is perhaps in the process of back-firing, because the base of the Republican Party is tired of the media and establishment choosing their candidates.  This characterizes one of Romney’s problems:  He is widely seen as the GOP establishment’s candidate, and that is a big turn-off for the rank-and-file conservatives and Tea Party folks in the GOP.  This threatens to overwhelm all of this “inevitability” talk, and if as Palin suggests, there is a backlash against the media’s Gingrich attacks, Romney may well find additional trouble with his ongoing campaign based on smearing the former Speaker’s reliability.

Despite all of the external factors, Mitt’s largest obstacle remains his own record.  He hopes to capture this nomination by default, letting the others self-destruct (with timely help) while he simply survives.  Unfortunately, he has a well-established track record of vacillation on a variety of issues that makes him unacceptable to many.

Update: Here’s the Hannity/Palin radio interview from Thursday:

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