All the cable networks have called South Carolina for Gingrich, and CNN’s exit poll suggests that he is going to trounce Romney by more than ten points. According to the same source, 55% of respondents said that they decided their vote in the last few days or today, and Gingrich handily won both groups, and he edged out Romney among those that decided earlier this month. 65% said that the debates were the most important or an important factor, and Gingrich also led Romney among both groups by 44 and 23 points respectively.

One small consolation for Romney is that he will nearly double his 2008 showing. The bad news for him is that he will apparently not match the 2008 results of McCain or Huckabee. Gov. Haley’s endorsement may have made a small difference, as Romney’s result was better among the majority that approved of her performance, but Gingrich won both pro- and anti-Haley groups by comfortable margins. It’s worth mentioning that the 2008 field at this point still included seven active candidates, five of whom received some substantial support. While the dropout candidates were still on the ballot today, there were just four candidates actively campaigning in the week before the primary, and that allowed more conservative voters to coalesce around one anti-Romney candidate.

As a politician with connections in Georgia, Gingrich may have had some advantages in South Carolina that the other candidates didn’t have, but that isn’t much of an explanation. I suppose there was bound to be some backlash against Romney somewhere, but it’s a shame that it came in the form of elevating the government-expanding, warmongering lobbyist disgrace once again. What’s the message here? “We don’t like the rich moderate, so we’re voting for the disgraced hypocritical lobbyist instead”?

Romney can be a dishonest demagogue, but Gingrich is the one who thinks (or pretends to think) the “Kenyan anti-colonialist” theory about Obama makes sense. Many Republicans are unenthusiastic about Romney, but far more people nationwide can’t stand Gingrich. Romney has a record of trying to have things both ways on many issues, but as far as I know he has never been on both sides of a major issue within the same month. Gingrich has that unfortunate distinction. Gingrich isn’t going to be the nominee. The Republican primary electorate can’t be that stupid.

P.S. Not that very many people seem to be noticing, but Ron Paul seems to have once again tripled his percentage of the vote compared to 2008.

Second Update: At this time four years ago, McCain had a narrow four-point lead over Romney in Florida according to the RCP average. As of today, Romney has an 18-point advantage in Florida according to the same measure.

Third Update: Many more Republicans turned out to vote this cycle than last. McCain, Huckabee and Thompson received about 330,000 votes in 2008, and Paul received a little over 16,000. Gingrich, Romney and Santorum have so far received approximately 438,000 510,000, and Paul has more than quadrupled his vote count.