South Carolina: Tea Party Heartland – as nasty as they want to be….

Matt Bai in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine set the scene for the upcoming South Carolina Republican primaries:

The Tea Party’s Not-So-Civil war

“I don’t know a single Tea Party person,” [Karen Martin,] said, slowly drawing out her words, “who does not despise Mitt Romney to the very core of their being.” I searched her face for levity or compassion, but found neither.

*

The problem is that [Tea Party partisans have] had a hard time settling on any obvious alternative to Romney, in a way that might transform the primary into a clear, binary choice. After a startling finish in Iowa, Rick Santorum seemed likely to steal significant votes from rivals like Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul and to fill the smallish void left by Michele Bachmann. But even as Santorum moved to consolidate conservative support, Tea Party organizers remained largely splintered among the rival campaigns. Their most influential leader, DeMint, declined to throw his support one way or the other. Haley, meanwhile, decided to endorse Romney in mid-December, a tactical decision that mostly drew derision from her Tea Party followers.

After months of confusion and bickering over whom to support, a kind of unraveling has occurred at the upper reaches of the movement, in some cases causing friendships to fray and giving rise to charges and countercharges on Facebook. Officers have resigned. Angry statements have been issued. Reputations have been damaged.

Read all for a look at the Tea Party and South Carolina you probably haven’t had….

Then for on the ground proof we have this:

Santorum accuses Romney of playing ‘dirty politics’ 

Discord in G.O.P. as Conservatives Air Differences

…evangelical leaders, intent on blocking Mr. Romney’s path to the nomination, showed new divisions after having appeared on Saturday to settle on Mr. Santorum as their conservative choice. Four conservative Christian leaders who attended a meeting of evangelicals in Texas asserted their independence on Monday, issuing a statement that said, “Many there were and still are for Newt Gingrich.”

Newt Gingrich and the Art of Racial Politics

And, in a move that Charrington, head of the thought police in Orwell’s 1984 could only envy, Jon Huntsman declared his support for Romney after trying to erase history:

Mr. Huntsman’s campaign, which struggled to raise money for expensive television ads, put many of his harshest attacks against Mr. Romney into clever and biting online videos that he posted to his campaign’s Web site and a corresponding YouTube channel.

Those videos (and a few television commercials) are now mostly gone, quickly yanked from public view as Mr. Huntsman prepares for an 11 a.m. endorsement of Mr. Romney.

There was “Backflip,” a video that highlighted what Mr. Huntsman called Mr. Romney’s flip-flopping on issues like abortion, gun rights and Ohio’s proposal to curb bargaining rights for unions.

Gone.

There was the one that accused Mr. Romney of being a “pretzel candidate.” It used clips of Mr. Romney saying one thing, and then seeming to say another — over and over again.

And the one that accused Mr. Romney of being a “perfectly lubricated weather vane” because of his many changes on issues.

Frank Bruni in the NY Times has more on Huntsman, who fell off the high-road he had vowed to stay on, pretty quickly.

[In his withdrawal speech] he said that the remaining candidate “best equipped to defeat Barack Obama” was Mitt Romney — and endorsed him. Just last week, Romney was so “detached from the problems that Americans are facing,” according to Huntsman, that he was “completely unelectable.”

He remarked on the country’s need for “bold and principled leadership.” Note the “principled” part. And remember, as Huntsman tries to make you forget, that videos on his Web site and his YouTube channel variously labeled Romney a “pretzel candidate,” an expert at the “backflip” and, most florid of all, “a perfectly lubricated weather vane.” That’s one slippery inconstancy metaphor.

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