A week ago, as of this typing, it all looked so simple.
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman had already dropped out of the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination (which was not altogether unexpected: I myself thought that, having put all his proverbial "eggs in one basket" entitled New Hampshire Presidential Primary, he had to win the Granite State canvass merely to stay in-- he did not and I was rather surprised that he was going to fight on. That he was out less than a week later was only a postponing of the inevitable, really);
Mitt Romney was riding high-- leading in the polling of likely South Carolina Republican voters who would be participating in that upcoming Saturday's (this being 21 January) Presidential Primary in the Palmetto State. If the former Massachusetts Governor- in fact- were to win there, he then would have (so it appeared at the time) claim three victories in a row to start off the 2012 GOP Primary/caucus "season" (his narrow "victory" [in quotes because no National Convention delegates- the real quest of candidates for a presidential nomination- were actually pledged to contenders here] in Iowa; his big win in New Hampshire; and what now would be, so it seemed, a reasonably sizable victory in South Carolina); there would be no question that Romney was, indeed, the "front runner"-- and what would be left would be a battle to a.) try and keep Romney from steamrolling to the nomination and b.) figuring out who the principal anti-Romney candidate might be (would it be either former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich? or former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum? or Texas Governor Rick Perry [who seemed to be handling South Carolina in much the same way Huntsman had handled New Hampshire: Perry seemed to be "all-in" 'Texas Hold 'Em' style-- headed only for either the big payout or bust]? Ron Paul, representing a minority faction of libertarianism that is not actually conservatism within the Grand Old Party, would not be able to be a direct factor at this point).
Then, in the space of 24 hours or so going into this past Thursday (19 January), the wheels started to come off the Romney bandwagon- this despite fellow Mormon Huntsman's endorsement (which probably didn't help Romney much in South Carolina in any event: it is more likely to help [assuming it even means anything in the first place] "down the road"):
first, Romney revealed that, despite his wealth, he was able to pay only 15% in taxes when the average person with both his income and assets would be likely to pay significantly more (thus, in one fell swoop, making himself the "poster child" for both the more vehement 'Tea Party' adherents and the 'Occupy' movement [albeit for different, yet similar, reasons]-- "Say it Loud, I'm 1% and Proud", I suppose); then, Governor Perry suddenly dropped out of the race (thus, South Carolina- the State in which Perry first announced his candidacy last summer- was not to be his "last stand" after all) and, in addition, immediately endorsed Newt Gingrich (this seemingly- however weak Perry's support- giving Speaker Gingrich a possible leg up on Romney); finally, Iowa election officials determined that Romney hadn't "won" the State's caucuses after all: Rick Santorum had (even though it was still, for all intents and purposes, a statistical tie, this was something of a political blow, if only because it was coming on top of everything else, including the polls showing a surge for Gingrich as the Primary loomed ever closer: Romney's lead disappeared-- it was a "dead heat"-- and then it looked as if Gingrich was going to run away with it).
And, when the votes were finally cast and counted come Saturday the 21st, Speaker Gingrich had run away with it!
The subtitle of my previous Commentary was "The Palmetto State will either set the stage or keep things rather messy"...
well... guess what?... it's now officially "messy"!
Apart from his victory in South Carolina, of course, Newt Gingrich's singular moment of the week came a couple nights before we all watched the returns from South Carolina coming in. For those who might have missed this particular event (or who might need a reminder of the exact nature of the episode), here is my review:
During a debate in Charleston, South Carolina on Thursday evening the 19th instant, moderate John King (of CNN) asked Gingrich- right off the bat- about a story (to be broadcast on ABC's Nightline later that same evening) in which one of the former Speaker's ex-wives claimed that Gingrich had, while they were still married to one another, asked for a so-called 'open marriage' (polygamy by any other name, perhaps, being most palatable, I suppose!); King finished his exposition of that about which he was asking with the following question: Would you like to take some time to respond to that?
Gingrich's first terse reply was: No, but I will (to rather thunderous applause from the audience [interspersed with chants of 'Newt, Newt, Newt' from the Gingrichites within]).
Then the former Speaker went on: I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of the media makes it harder to govern the country, harder to attract decent people to run for office and I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that. [more applause with several in the audience in standing ovation: the 'reaction' shot of King showed a man seemingly about to lose his supper (doubtless, King himself felt obligated- as a journalist- to ask just such a question in order to give Gingrich a chance to address something that, after all, was one of the biggest stories on that very evening's national newscasts but a few hours before [here in the East, at least: they had yet to be broadcast on the Pacific Coast at the time of the debate, of course; by the way: my other assumption is that- in the "cocoon" that is a presidential campaign (where a candidate tends to be surrounded by people who are, effectively, the proverbial "echoes of his own voice"- Gingrich's own view, at the time, of how the story was already playing out in the so-called 'mainstream media' was already warped, but even further warped by the all-too-evident, where not also vitriolic, hatred of that media by Gingrich himself, let alone his hardest-core of his supporters]-- at the same time, however, Gingrich could still well anticipate what was coming, gird himself well for the "enemy" and, thereby, be altogether prepared [regardless of exactly when the question might actually come up- as he, almost certainly, knew it would- during the course of that evening's debate]).
Gingrich then went on to say (and we're now coming to the real issue at hand): Every person in here knows personal pain. Every person in here has had someone close to them go through painful things. To take an ex-wife, and make it two days before the Primary, and make it a significant question in a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine. [more raucous- yet at least somewhat more subdued- applause]. After noting that his own two daughters had asked ABC to pull the story (on grounds that it was "wrong" [more or this later, by the way]), Gingrich stated that he was astounded that CNN would take trash like that and open a presidential debate.
In a vain attempt to defend himself at that point, King interjected with As you know, Mr. Speaker, this story did not come from our network but, as you also know, it is also the subject of conversation on the campaign. I get your point...
Gingrich interrupted [as cheers and applause began to again erupt from the audience; cheers and applause rising in volume as Gingrich spoke- rising much as would be expected of a crowd about to witness a matador sticking the final sword into the hapless bull]: John, it was repeated by your network; you chose to start the debate with it: don't try to blame somebody else. You and your staff chose to start this debate with it!
Gingrich then went on to suggest (a tired old canard, this) that the mainstream media was "protecting President Obama by attacking Republicans" (when, in reality, if the media is, indeed, protecting Barack Obama, there are other- indeed, more effective- methods with which they might do so [especially considering that Obama is the incumbent in the White House]; meanwhile- at that point [again, just two days before the South Carolina Primary]- Republican candidates themselves seemed to have been doing a much better job attacking each other [via campaign ads running incessantly on TV throughout the Palmetto State] than the media could possibly have been doing! [Gingrich's self-righteous indignation at a "destructive, vicious, negative nature" would have been much better directed at the campaigns of his own rivals for the GOP presidential nomination, not to also mention the very campaign of the man staring back at him from a mirror!])... at this, and not at all unexpectedly, the crowd erupted in cheers and applause, chants of the former Speaker's first name and- again- a 'Standing O': all as if Newton Leroy Gingrich himself were, instead, Moses coming down from atop Sinai with the Ten Commandments!
At least the venerable Decalogue contains far more of real substance, however.
Let's now go back and- without benefit of what might have seen on television (which can well distract the mere hearer [see Debates: Kennedy-Nixon, 1960... for it is well known that those watching on television tended to think JFK did better, while those listening only on radio thought RMN actually had done better, in these])- go over what Speaker Gingrich actually said:
The "personal pain" aspect of Gingrich's rant was the stuff of the flim-flam man or the charlatan, the carnival barker or the snake oil salesman. Yes, I have to give him all due credit, Gingrich was so well prepared: for the audience was led to believe (although it largely led itself, through the very uncritical thinking that so marks the "crowd" [and it is this that Gingrich himself was very much counting on]) that Gingrich's "personal pain" was- without any real doubt- equivalent to their own, whatever it might actually be (Gingrich being asked a question about past personal behavior- as if that's never happened before in the context of a presidential campaign [or even outside it: see Impeachment: Clinton, William Jefferson- 1998-- and... um... just who was Speaker of the House at the time?]!- could now be equated with, say, the death of one's favorite relative from terminal cancer or one's loved one having been killed in a car crash and the like, in the mind of someone in that audience who might actually have gone through just such a thing [of course, Gingrich's so referring to "personal pain" was, in reality, offense, where it wasn't also downright insulting-- for having to take on the necessary "slings and arrows" that come with one's having the audacity to run for the Nation's Highest Office to begin with cannot at all, even remotely, compare to- among other things- the other "personal pain" I have already mentioned above-- but shame on the audience at this debate (not counting the Gingrichites therein, of course, who would've cheered wildly and chanted his first name had Gingrich merely announced to the assembled that 2 plus 2 equals 4!) for so allowing him to get away with it]).
Much the same can be said about Gingrich citing his daughters contacting the very television network presenting the story (itself altogether interesting-- for why did Gingrich so willingly involve his own children?-- put another way: why did he not just call ABC himself?! [having your offspring do your own "grunt work" does not much mitigate the notion of a candidate trying to appear not to influence the coverage of his campaign: and, if Gingrich wanted to be so covert, why then mention this publicly if not to generate sympathy based on false premise?) and, further, having them be the ones to have told ABC it was "wrong". The use of this very word is not at all coincidental; it is, rather, quite purposeful-- precisely because it is so vague. Was the ABC Nightly News story "wrong" in the sense of its being inaccurate?-- or was Gingrich here implying moral "wrong" in the story (true or not) even being addressed publicly in the first place?: Gingrich did not say, apparently because he very much wanted those in the audience (both at the debate's venue, as well as watching on television) themselves to answer his own all too calculated imprecision.
Very clever, Mr. Speaker... but also altogether typical!
As for his "schooling the media" (as Gingrich's petulant bullying of the debate's moderator was quickly dubbed by those most favorable to it):
"Don't try to blame somebody else": Gingrich said this with much indignation. He, of course, knew much about that which he spoke, however...
for, here, he was doing the very thing for which he was chiding King. Because the real cause of the story of Gingrich's (alleged) long-ago attempt to have an 'open marriage' being such a big issue is that it is a.) either something Gingrich himself did, in fact, do (despite his strongest assertions that the story is false) or (and this is more to the point); b.) something many amongst the electorate as a whole (including many Republicans, by the way) think could be true (if only because of other elements within Gingrich's personal life that have been, more or less, verified); and John King, CNN, ABC or the mainstream media as a whole have nothing at all to do with that!
Newt Gingrich's core problem is that- once upon a time (albeit at a time when it would not have been all that much of an issue, politically)- he was what many Republicans of today would call a 'R I N O' (Republican In Name Only). And, back in the 1970s, many a moderate Republican such as Gingrich was in his first two (unsuccessful) campaigns for Congress in those days, no less than might have many liberal Democrats of the time, seriously considered (where they did not actually engage in) what might delicately be called 'alternative lifestyles' that a conservative Republican- then, as now- would be far more likely to decry.
Gingrich was having enough trouble- or so it seemed at the time in South Carolina (this, again, being before the Primary)- presenting his conservative bona fides before the voters with such a political/sociocultural past as his own; and, in the Palmetto State, Winston Churchill's famous dictum that "he who is not a socialist before he is 30 has no heart; he who remains a socialist after he is 30 has no head" (not that Gingrich was ever really a 'socialist'- even in the "social welfare" sense of the term in which Britain's Churchill was using it-- but the term 'socialist' conjures up, in the minds of those least amenable to it, far more on this side of the Atlantic than the merely ideological/policy option aspects of the term) doesn't much wash amongst many a Republican voter therein. Simply put: he didn't need this on top of all that!
It all reminded me of a conversation I had with a conservative Republican acquaintance not all that long after (speaking of South Carolina!) the breaking of a scandal involving then-Palmetto State (Republican) Governor Mark Sanford. Back in June 2009, it was reported- after more than a few days of no communication with him- that Sanford was off hiking along nearby portions of the Appalachian Trail when, as it later turned out, he had actually flown to Argentina in order to spend time with his mistress and, further, his own staff had no idea where he actually was for the better part of an entire week!
The real issue (certainly that which was the more important), of course, was that Governor Sanford's so "disappearing" had the potential to foment a significant constitutional crisis in his own State (the Constitution of which requires that the State's Lieutenant Governor shall exercise the powers of the Governor upon the latter's "removal from the state"-- but how could the Lieutenant Governor even be "acting Governor" when he had absolutely no idea the Governor had even left South Carolina, let alone the United States itself?) The "sexier" (in this case, literally!) story, however, was Sanford so having an affair with an Argentinean woman.
My acquaintance seemed more upset with the media than with Sanford himself (although he was clearly unhappy with the fact that the man who, at the time, the head of the Republican Governors' Association [a position Sanford was soon obliged to relinquish] was so revealed to be a womanizer), complaining that "Republicans are always held to a far higher standard; if this were Bill Clinton, the media would pat him on the back and give him a free pass, as they already have!"
[By the way- and I just checked the rather considerable resources here at the 'East Coast branch' of TheGreenPapers.com to so verify this: I hardly think then-President Clinton got a "free pass" (let alone a "pat on the back") from the media back in 1998. I just went through pages of newspapers on DVD-ROM, as well as the Internet, and see nothing- as regards the Monica Lewinsky scandal- that even remotely suggests such a thing! Ask the obvious question: how did *I* know about the scandal at the time?-- how can I know about it now, almost a decade and a half later? Then again, *I* do research on behalf of 'The Green Papers', not mythos!]
It was, however, very clear- and immediately so- that my acquaintance's issue was not with the media per se but, rather, with those supporters of Bill Clinton who, in my acquaintance's opinion, had failed to hold Clinton to account back then. So I responded with a question: "Who is holding Mark Sanford to a higher standard than Bill Clinton?"
"Certainly not Republicans!" he replied... to which I, right away, answered: "WRONG!!!" (and, here, my reason for using this word was most clear [;-)])
My acquaintance, somewhat flustered by my quick and terse response, was indignant himself: "How can you say that? Republicans held both to the same higher standards; Democrats, for the most part, did not!"... to which I smiled and replied: "Yes, indeed. And, by the way, thank you so very much for helping make my point!"
I then went on to explain to him what should have been most obvious: that Mark Sanford was being held- by most Republicans- to higher standards as regarded his personal morality than many- if not most- Democrats, seemingly (fair or unfair, as the case may be, being put aside for purposes of this argument), held Bill Clinton under rather similar circumstances (that is: as regarded their respective sexual mores-- for there is no evidence that, while President, Bill Clinton ever put his Vice-President, Al Gore, into a situation like that Sanford had put his then-Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer [then again, and truth be told: a President of the United States of America, likely, very well can't!-- meanwhile: as for Bill Clinton's constitutional relationships- as Governor of Arkansas- with Joe Purcell, Winston Bryant or Jim Guy Tucker (his own respective Lieutenant Governors), I can't say]) was the very product of Sanford being a Republican and not a Democrat!
In other words: it was Republicans who expected their politicians (far more than Democrats in general [or so my acquaintance himself had so opined]) to be as "clean" as practicable as regarded their own sexuality; therefore, it was Republicans who were responsible for Sanford having to so publicly answer for his own moral flaws and foibles (it sure as hell wasn't the Democrats who forced Sanford out as chairman of the Republican Governors' Association!)... "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose", sang Kris Kristofferson; being a Republican Governor (and, up until this scandal, also being considered an "up and comer" within the Party- perhaps even a contender for that 2012 Republican presidential nomination Gingrich et al. themselves now so contend for), Sanford had plenty to lose and, indeed, lost it all...
but not because of the media (liberal bias or no), nor because of liberal Democrats (the real, albeit unstated, target of Newt Gingrich's wrath last Thursday evening, by the way)!
Republicans (generally speaking, of course) choose to hold their politicians and candidates to higher moral standards (particularly- or so it seems- when it comes to sex); no one makes them do so! If you might care about what our fellow neighbor might (or might not) be doing behind closed doors and I don't, your indignation at what he or she is, or is not, doing (whether real or imagined) is neither my concern nor my responsibility. Therefore, if our neighbor does not meet your own high expectations, what does that have to do with me or, for that matter, anyone else like me in the neighborhood who also doesn't care (about anyone else in the neighborhood doing- or not doing- what you yourself think this neighbor might- or might not- be doing)?
In the main, of course, few in the congregation really all that much care if the church custodian has fathered a child out of wedlock (though, yes, it will produce its share of hushed whispers and clicked tongues in the narthex or during "fellowship" after Sunday services); the same, however, very much care- and far more at that!- were they to learn the married pastor is so regularly sleeping with the divorced choir director. Likewise, Gingrich's real problem is that he has to- in the course of so contending for the Grand Old Party's presidential nomination- answer to Republicans (as well as any independent voters the more likely to vote for a Republican): even as might regard his personal life... and he doesn't all that much like it!
Gingrich complained about a "destructive, vicious and negative" atmosphere (regardless of its actual origins- whether inside, or outside, the mainstream media [or both]) dissuading "decent people" from becoming political candidates and, at the same time, "mak[ing] it harder to govern"-- yet he himself is, nonetheless, running for President in just such an atmosphere (if we are to accept his own premise)-- or is Gingrich suggesting he- let alone any of the others currently seeking the Presidency (including Barack Obama)- is not, in fact, so decent?-- that he will not, should he eventually be nominated for- and then elected- President, be at all able to govern? (Of course, my tongue is in cheek as I pose these last couple rhetorical questions; but only partially in cheek!)
Fact is: Newt Gingrich- no less (although no more) than any other candidate for political office- does not get to dictate his own terms when it comes to how he might, or might not, be perceived by anyone (including me).
Thus, or so I can opine: Gingrich's diatribe directed at John King last week (taking on the "common enemy" of- rather than his own rivals within- his Party, if only because it's so much easier than dealing with that little something I like to call 'Reality') was but a variant of the gambit of the kid who knocks other kids into lockers whilst kicking their books down the hall complaining most vociferously at having, as a result, been identified as a bully; and his lashing out, as part of this, at King for "blam[ing]" another TV network is but the stuff of the (alleged) moralist demanding that others take all due responsibility where he refuses to take it himself.
But might this gambit (flawed as it might be generally) have actually worked?
Who really knows? (Although there are more than enough [over?-]analyzing the exit polling that came out of South Carolina's voting this past Saturday that I here need not join the fray-- but it has to be fairly said there is quite a lot of anger "out there" [and I do mean 'out there'! ;-)]).
Perhaps, then, Speaker Gingrich's (alleged) "schooling the media" did attract votes to himself that might otherwise have gone to Rick Santorum (or even Mitt Romney). If so, it surely must rank up there in the lore of American presidential politics with Hillary Clinton's (in?)famous "crying jag in the coffee shop" on the eve of the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary in New Hampshire in terms of emotional tug soon thereafter becoming electoral success!
Or, perhaps, Governor Rick Perry did have at least some "pull" in the Palmetto State, after all, and his quick endorsement of Gingrich upon withdrawing from the race was, indeed, a major factor in the latter's victory (which would also suggest that Huntsman's endorsement of Romney, indeed, carried little weight in South Carolina).
Then again, many South Carolinians might well have simply rejected Governor Romney (and I myself always suspected this might well be an issue in any event) precisely because he is a Mormon-- or maybe it's all just because Romney speaks French! ;-)
In any event, Gingrich not only beat Romney (who, again, but only days before appeared to have South Carolina "in the bag") but it can fairly be said to have been a veritable "beat-down" of the one-time front runner.
The biggest loser in South Carolina, however, was not Romney (who, given the vote cast for him prior to South Carolina, so obviously gets to well fight on) but, rather, the aforementioned Rick Santorum. I myself- even in the wake of the results from New Hampshire- expected him to do better (Mike Huckabee- with an appeal to Republican voters not all that unlike that the former Arkansas Governor used in the State four years earlier- had gotten nearly 30% of the Palmetto State vote to John McCain's 33% back in 2008). Santorum's 17% last Saturday- when combined with the less than 10% he had already received in the Granite State earlier- does not at all bode well for the future of the Pennsylvanian's presidential candidacy (his now-"victory" in Iowa notwithstanding).
No question: Newt Gingrich is, indeed, the "I'm Not Mitt Romney" candidate going into Florida next week!
One quick note, before I close, as regards Congressman Ron Paul: he did about as expected in South Carolina (13%), a State where straight-up libertarianism does not fly as well as it might among either Iowa cornfields or New Hampshire hills.
South Carolina's political system has, historically, been just about as centralized as that in (how ironic! [;-)]) France: it was, after all, the last State to allow its own citizens to actually vote for President (that is: presidential Electors, of course: being able to actually vote in presidential elections is actually a positive legacy of otherwise carpetbagging Reconstructionists!); it was a State which, up until a generation or so ago, had its principal local government- the County- under the direct "thumb", as it were, of the State (indeed: until the widespread creation of elected county Councils, the State's Governor had wide appointment power as regarded county officials and, as a result, the effective "legislative body" of the average South Carolina County, back in the day, was the county's own delegation in a State Legislature which had to then approve any county by-laws [although there was the ever more usual deference to the county's own legislators in this regard]); whether it was Nullification or Secession, Civil War or Civil Rights, South Carolina ever insisted on its "State's Rights" (and note well, gentle reader, my use here of "its" [that is: the State itself], not "their" [meaning, the People thereof]!).
This is not at all to suggest that, somehow, South Carolina is either backward, archaic or even obsolete now in the early 21st Century. South Carolina is as much a part of the so-called 'New South' that emerged in the 1970s as any other Deep South State (indeed, it is surely fair to observe that South Carolina has "modernized" itself, so to speak, far more along the lines of neighboring Georgia than, say, either more distant Alabama or Mississippi). This is, however, to say that the Palmetto State is quite conservative- and in the traditional sense of that term (where, while "modernization" proceeds apace, that pace is, nonetheless, altogether deliberate!)
South Carolinians are certainly most jealous of their Liberty-- no question about that! But, to most of her citizens, such Liberty is not that of the libertarians which- in South Carolina- seems, at least at times, all too libertine! All told, Ron Paul did about as well as might be expected (although this be lower than his "take" of the vote in either Iowa or New Hampshire) and his presidential campaign was not all that hurt by his fourth-place finish (Paul did far worse in the Palmetto State four years ago!)
Oh, well... mess aside... now on to the Sunshine State next week!