Aye for Newt Spells Double Toil and Trouble for GOP
The GOP primary race remains a wacky brew, although one with fewer fixins. Gone is the amazing pizza king and his hazy harem. Long gone is the man from Minnesota whom nobody knew. Gone, too, is the prom queen of the Tea Party along with the Texas cowboy who couldn’t speak straight. This week, four remain, and the man at the top is not Mitt Romney.
Newt Gingrich scored a somewhat remarkable upset in South Carolina — I throw in the caveat because South Carolina is, well, South Carolina, first in war (the Civil War, that is), a place where Yahoo is a state of mind as well as a search engine. He won the primary with 40 percent of the vote to Romney’s 28, with Rick Santorum, who didn’t light the evangelist fire and seems to have only one sweater vest to his name, finishing third, and the sweetly sunny Ron Paul fourth. Rick Perry had already dropped out earlier and endorsed Gingrich.
In South Carolina, the Evangelists and the Tea Party are strong factors, much stronger than in the Republican party at large. It’s a state where — among the GOP faithful — Barack Obama is not just the Democratic president, incumbent and opponent, he is reviled, hated and perhaps a socialist and perhaps not even a citizen of the United States.
It’s a place, where Romney — not a moderate, not really a conservative, a nobody-knows-what — probably shouldn’t have expected to do well and where John McCain’s candidacy was derailed in 2000 and didn’t exactly rock and roll four years ago. But Romney had a double-digit lead over what remained of the field—Gingrich, Santorum and the increasingly Yoda-like Ron Paul — as late as mid-week last week. That was before a surge toward Gingrich, mysterious but real, was detected. His surge was driven by tough debate performances, and his response in the last debate to ABC’s airing of an interview with his ex-wife in which he reportedly had asked her for an “open marriage.”
The CNN debate moderator, John King, made the mistake in bringing up the subject right off the top, giving Gingrich an open-ended question. As all observers noted, Newt knocked it out of the park. He railed against the establishment media, he questioned the appropriateness of the questions and railed against the media some more, all of which the audience cheered. Bashing the media in South Carolina — except for Fox News and Rush—is a no-brainer, like taking lunch money from a kid who is half your size with no karate experience.
The CNN moderate was entirely right to bring the subject up, but he asked the wrong question. It should have been, when Gingrich starts sputtering about fairness, privacy and the sanctity and sacrament of matrimony, whether Christian theology has room for open marriage and about the hypocrisy in his constant talk about family values and marriage. But, then, Gingrich thinks he’s as wise as Solomon.
Gingrich has admitted that he has made mistakes, but he’s never acknowledged what they might be. He says that he is a changed man from the bruiser, bullying Speaker of the House of yore, who led the impeachment drive against President Bill Clinton, but he never says how he’s changed.
Romney, in his clashes with Gingrich, has steadily shrunk to the size of the rest of the field, which was generally considered weak, if not downright mediocre or worse. Once the steady front-runner, even when the rest of the field was doing the dance of the seven minutes of fame, Romney is slowly emerging as that guy behind the curtain in “The Wizard of Oz." He’s made some interesting comments, all of them indicating that he appears to have no clue how most Americans live, which is to say the 99 percent, in hard times.
From the $10,000 bet, to saying that his speaking fees of more than $300,000 are not a lot of money, to claiming that he feared getting the pink slip, to the blue jeans, Romney reveals himself to be out of touch with common human beings like the rest of us. He may soon release his tax information, but we already know he’s a 15 percenter.
Gingrich, on the other hand, scares the bejesus out of the regular Republican establishment types. This allows Gingrich to claim the status of fighter, rebel and Captain America, although he needs to get into the gym to get into that costume. It’s an odd thing — he’s a populist, a Reaganite and a pugnacious intellectual who presents himself as someone who can beat Obama . . . at least in a debate or in a dark alley, whichever works.
Lo and behold, here is Newt Gingrich, the Washington outsider, after years as an insider, including Speaker of the House. This Newt is confident — always a danger for him—he’s ready to fight the long fight and lead the American people out of socialism. He’s already had a remarkable career. As speaker, he orchestrated an amazing comeback for the GOP after it lost the presidency to Clinton. In two years — much as was the case with Obama — he had the GOP in control of both the House and the Senate, a feat he frittered away through high-handedness and arrogance, making lots of enemies in the party, a fact which is starting to become clear now.
Old timers are starting to fret about the possibility of a Newt victory. They’re casting rumors about third parties. A Washington Post headline hyped: “A New Twist in the Search for Mr. Right.” The GOP fears that it will get Mr. Goodbar instead.