Was it the video hit his Super PAC put out on Romney? Was it his heroic denunciation of his ex-wife and the Liberal Media (mostly the Liberal Media)? Whatever the reason, Newt Gingrich won a big surprise victory in Saturday’s South Carolina primary.
Rightbloggers who’ve always loved the former Speaker were delighted, and hastened to tell the world how his come-from-behind win will help someone else beat him for the Republican nomination.
To be fair, there were plenty of rightbloggers who just loved Newt and were convinced he’d make a great candidate against Barack Obama.
“Not since President Ronald Reagan,” claimed White House 2012, “has a Politician stirred the deepest heartfelt passions & spoken to the sense of disillusionment” etc. He also said that just as Ronald Reagan was known as “the ‘Great Communicator,’ I welcome Speaker Gingrich as the average ordinary person’s ‘Great Articulator.'” We wonder if the average ordinary person knows what that means.
But the more common approach was to praise Gingrich for all the things rightbloggers love about him — his snide tone, his punitive attitude toward the poor, etc. — and then suggest how someone other than Newt Gingrich (usually Mitt Romney) could profit from his example.
At Ricochet, Paul A. Rahe, peering up from a pile of Great Books, intoned, “Revolutions are moments of rupture. Very few people see them coming. Montesquieu, writing between the lines, and Rousseau, ostentatiously speaking his mind, evidenced a recognition of the moral bankruptcy of eighteenth-century France and forecast that profound changes were in store. But no one paid them any heed…”
Several encyclopedia entries later, Rahe got to the money shot: With the Obama Administration, “we are witnessing an attempt to overturn ‘the fundamental laws’… The good people of South Carolina recognize as much. They understand the crisis we face… They want a standard-bearer who can reverse the course that we are now on.”
We expected next an “Aux armes, citoyens!” from Rahe, calling conservatives to follow the example of South Carolina’s new Fort Sumter and Go Gingrich. So we were surprised when he added, “I am not arguing that Newt Gingrich would do better in November, 2012” than “milquetoast moderate Republicans” had done in previous elections, and reminded us that he himself had “argued that [Gingrich] was unprincipled, erratic, and vulnerable.” Far from leading the new revolution with which Rahe had been tantalizing us, South Carolina was actually backing an candidate who was unprincipled and offered no electoral advantage — politically, the worst of both worlds.
Then Rahe started offering advice to moderate milquetoast Romney. Alerting him that he was “seriously in danger of losing the nomination,” Rahe advised Romney to “show fire and put himself at the head of the forces intent on gradually dismantling the administrative entitlements state.”
How to do that, and in a hurry? “Were I running Romney’s campaign,” said Rahe, “…I would get my man up to Washington, DC tonight, and I would have him join tomorrow’s March for Life.” Apparently the milquetoast moderate could divert the revolutionary ardor of the Republican masses by going to an anti-abortion rally.
Brent Bozell was happy that Gingrich had defeated his most significant opponent in the race, the “liberal media.”
Gingrich “tapped into the anger and frustration of not only South Carolina voters, but of the rest of the country,” insisted Bozell. “The left-wing media have tried to manipulate this campaign cycle through the systematic character assassination of every conservative in the race. The public has had it.”
That’s a big claim for a single state primary. So, could we assume that Bozell was jumping in for the big win with Gingrich?
Actually he seemed more interested in Santorum’s, Romney’s, and Paul’s future plans, advising that “Newt’s three competitors ought to push back against the media the same way he did this week. If they are smart, they will emulate the refreshing assertiveness that propelled Newt to victory.” Great idea! They can get started on that anti-liberal-media program Monday, at the NBC debate, in which they were presumably forced to participate at gunpoint.
At National Review, Michael Walsh thought the loss meant that Romney “finds himself right back where he started this campaign, stuck at around a quarter of the vote. If that’s ‘electable,’ the GOP is in serious trouble.”
What then to do? “What counts is passion,” said Walsh. “…the GOP bonzes seemed embarrassed by the Tea Party’s success. They pushed the ‘electable’ and ‘inevitable’ memes as hard as they could in the service of a milquetoast candidate, and the mainstream media, openly rooting for the other side, was only too happy to help them out. As I’ve been saying, Romney’s been the candidate the Democrats have wanted to face all along, in part because of his glass ceiling. Which is turning out to be a glass jaw.”
Well, no worries then — just nominate Gingrich and watch the votes roll in, yes? Actually, Walsh, too, was more interested in another candidate’s future plans: “Romney has simply got to come up with a more cogent rationale for his candidacy than he has up to now if he has any hope of becoming president,” he said. “He can’t run for CEO any more… If this loss tonight makes Romney a stronger, better, more articulate candidate, terrific.”
What sort of line should Romney take? Walsh didn’t say, but a clue came in his portrayal of the Democratic campaign strategy: “Obama and his party are running on a platform of contempt for America.” Well, then, it should be easy: All Romney has to do is wait for Obama to say that he hates America, and come back with a zinger.
Howie Carr, while beating up on Romney as “Dudley Do-Right,” worried that as the nominee Gingrich would do poorly in an actual Presidential election — though, like his success in South Carolina, that too would all be the fault of the Liberal Media.
“To the ‘Jersey Shore’ MTV crowd,” said Carr, “Newt would come across as a fat, nasty, pasty old man. They’re not going to realize what a boob Barack is, because they’re boobs, too.” MTV crowd? Wait, when did the U.S. Presidential election become a text-your-vote thing? Will ESPN fans still have the franchise?
At The Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes just straight-up told us “What Mitt Must Learn from South Carolina.” Declaring that after South Carolina “Gingrich becomes, at the very least, co-frontrunner with Romney,” and “could blow past Romney with the energy of his campaign and strong performances in the two televised debates in the next week,” Barnes advised Romney to focus on “supply side economics and tax reform,” because it worked for Reagan thirty years ago and, when all is said and done, Reagan Reagan Reagan. “Romney does have a robust initiative on curbing entitlements, the biggest cause of rising debt,” said Barnes. “It’s been praised by Paul Ryan, the popular Republican policy thinker. But you don’t hear Romney say much about it.” Yeah, that’s weird Romney isn’t telling anyone how he wants to gut Social Security and Medicare. The man obviously knows nothing about politics.
Erick Erickson, RedState chief, CNN commentator, and conservative purity enforcer, denounced Romney as the “milquetoast moderate from Massachusetts” (say, notice a pattern here?) and said South Carolina was “a rather desperate scream to get another player on the field. It is a red flag. It is the giant ‘Danger’ sign ahead for the general election.”
So, would that player be Newt Gingrich? Erickson seemed not to think so: “Party leaders who have invested so much in Mitt Romney,” he said, “might want now to ride on to a brokered convention and find someone acceptable to everyone.”
A brokered convention! The impossible dream of political nerds everywhere! Well, Erickson’s not the only one — Joe Scarborough, former GOP chairman Michael Steele, and some other rightbloggers talked about it too.
Erickson added this: “Sure, [Gingrich would] probably be an erratic President, but right now Republican voters don’t care about his Presidency. They care about the fight with the left both Mitt Romney, and the Washington Republican leaders like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell don’t seem inclined to engage in.”
We think we get it now: The race for the GOP nomination isn’t about winning the Presidential battle. It’s about who has the best game face.
Some rightbloggers couldn’t even pretend. On Saturday night, Washington Post blogger and Santorum fan Jennifer Rubin headlined, “Santorum inspiring, Gingrich down in the dumps in South Carolina.” Well, deadlines are a bitch, and — wait, she posted this after Gingrich won?
In Rubin’s view, while Santorum “gave a terrific, well-conceived speech… emphasizing his appeal to working- and middle-class voters” after getting clobbered, Gingrich “looked weirdly morose for much of his speech… Of course, he hawked his idea of Lincoln-Douglas debates. (Even to supporters, doesn’t this sound loony?)” Also, his speech “was too long, too.”
Thus, said Rubin, “Santorum and Romney should be heartened” by the result of the primary (i.e., they lost to Newt fucking Gingrich), because “they are running against a candidate who seems uncomfortable with victory and with no definable message beyond ‘the elites hate America.’ As Santorum put it in Iowa, game on.”
The next day Rubin wasn’t so sanguine, or whatever she had been the night before, and wrote an “open letter” to several key Republicans, begging that they save their own party from “perhaps the only GOP candidate who could shift the spotlight from President Obama to himself, alienate virtually all independent voters, lose more than 40 states and put the House majority in jeopardy.”
How were they to do that? “One of you can run yourself,” she offered. (Among her addressees: Haley Barbour and Eric Cantor.) “Or you can instead collectively get behind a not-Gingrich candidate. But really, if you are to have a Republican Party to lead one day in the future, you can’t very well do nothing.”
Rubin also declared, “If conservatism becomes a movement of anti-media bashing and hyperbolic rhetoric, it will cease to be a force in American politics.” It’s like she hasn’t even been paying attention, isn’t it?
And the desperate Mitt makeovers kept pouring in. “Mitt needs to get good real fast,” ended Mark Steyn‘s post mortem at National Review. “A real speech, real plan, real responses, and real fire in the belly. Does he have it in him?”
Steyn is as right-wing as they come; why doesn’t he, and all his equally right-wing colleagues, just go with the the Gingrich flow?
Like conservatives everywhere, rightbloggers love Gingrich’s finger-in-the-eye, combative approach to national politics. But they love one thing more: Winning.
And Newt Gingrich just isn’t going to win in November. Even if Obama were revealed to be a Communist vampire from Mars, Gingrich couldn’t beat him. Among voters, Gingrich’s favorability ratings are ridiculously bad. People over the age of thirty remember him as the loser of a government-shutdown showdown and for being sanctioned by the House for ethics violations. Everyone else wonders what that mean guy with three wives is doing on TV.
The characteristics that endear Gingrich to partisans look very different to normal people: The “fat, nasty, pasty old man” Howie Carr worried about voters seeing is not a Liberal Media illusion — it’s Newt Gingrich.
That’s why, when the fun and games part of the campaign began to wind down, rightbloggers started to break for Romney despite his lack of conservative bona fides — at least some normal people might vote for him. But they’ve got guilty consciences about it; in their hearts, they’d prefer one of the other lunatics from the early campaign, like Michele Bachmann or Donald Trump.
It’s a tough spot for them — but let hope spring eternal: There’s a website out now called RunMitchRun.com, “created by a single voter in Virginia… to demonstrate to Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels that the number of Americans who would prefer him to the current field of candidates is more than sufficient to justify the effort.” The race may be over, but the huffing and puffing can go on for months.