22 January 2012

South Carolina proved something

Yesterday's Republican primary proved that Newt Gingrich is resilient. Along among the "flavor-of-the-month" candidates who've risen and fallen over the past year, Gingrich has risen again. That fact arguably proves something else: Rick Santorum doesn't have what it takes. A week after his anointing by the Texas conclave of "social conservative" leaders, he has crashed and burned. He appears to have been repudiated by the rank-and-fire for whom the leaders in Texas presumed to speak. I'll suggest two reasons for this. First, Santorum clearly lacks the fire in his belly that Gingrich just as clearly possesses. He's missing something that would allow him to connect with his would-be base the way Gingrich does. In simplest terms, the Tea Party element seems to have rejected him for one of the same reasons they've rejected Mitt Romney. However rabidly reactionary Santorum may be, he simply doesn't project the same kind of charismatic rage that Gingrich can generate without effort. It does seem clear that self-identified TPs have rejected Santorum for Gingrich, and this is probably related to the nature of the schism I described within the social-conservative movement last week. Though Gingrich is as much of a former insider as Santorum, -- much more, actually -- the fact that so many insiders clearly despise the former Speaker has most likely endeared him to those who, while calling themselves "conservatives," despise the whole idea of "insiders," so long as they don't see themselves inside. The thunderous anathemas cast at Gingrich questioning his conservatism have probably thrown the conservatism of the denouncers into question in some quarters. Just as Gingrich is said disparagingly to be an idiot's idea of a genius -- the important thing is that he's also the sort of "genius" they admire rather than distrust -- he also seems to be the rank-and-file's idea of a conservative leader, if not a "conservative visionary," in some parts of the country. Again, this seems to be a matter of temperament as much as anything else. Gingrich's personal style disqualifies him with many, but endears him or signifies his authenticity to many others. Santorum has none of this, and that dooms his candidacy.

The other thing the primary proves is that South Carolinians are self-deluding. This comes out in a study of exit polls that shows that the Republican primary voters of that state believed Gingrich more electable than Romney in a general election. I continue to hear complaints from the most rabid Republicans that Romney is somehow their least electable candidate. I heard this again from Mr. Right in the office as late as last Friday. I tried to put him straight: as I've written here, the mere fact that people like him are open contemptuous toward Romney will only make him seem like a safer bet for swing voters should he make it into the general election. But like Mr. Right, the Gingrich voters appear to believe that there is a great silent majority of Americans who think as they do, but will only be drawn out to vote by the most hardcore, confrontational conservative candidate. Unfortunately, we already know that many Republicans don't believe that Gingrich is the most conservative candidate, and that some don't consider him conservative at all. I think it's safe to say that hostility toward Gingrich is so great in some quarters that more Republicans are likely to stay home in November if he is nominated than if Romney is. Fortunately for Republicans, such an outcome remains unlikely. The news media want to heighten the drama by saying that Romney's on the ropes right now, but South Carolina ultimately proves no more about Republicans nationwide than Iowa or New Hampshire did. It does prove, I suppose, that Romney hasn't sealed the deal, as he seemed poised to do a week ago -- but it doesn't prove that he won't. The vetting continues....

3 comments:

Crhymethinc said...

Let me propose an alternative theory. In the eyes of the rank-and-file, Gingrich is being targeted far more heavily than Santorum by the "liberal media". Therefore, liberals must see Gingrich as more of a threat so he is the one to support.

Samuel Wilson said...

Things are complicated by the perception that the "liberal media" favors Romney, which is probably news to Romney. The point of interest for me remains the fact that so many impeccably conservative Republicans despise Gingrich, yet their opinions don't seem to mean anything to the conservative rank-and-file. But if they conclude that anyone who's against Gingrich is part of a liberal-media conspiracy, doesn't that turn conservatism itself into nothing more than a Gingrich personality cult? It seems like his supporters are left saying that conservatism is whatever Newt says it is.

Crhymethinc said...

Unless they follow Romney. Then conservatism is whatever Romney says it is. If they follow Palin, then conservatism is whatever Palin says it is. Or whatever Beck says it is. Or whatever Limbaugh says it is.