In his latest Atlantic post Conor Friedersdorf claims to see signs on Sarah Palin's Facebook page of the fulfillment of a prophecy he made last year. He predicted that an embrace of Newt Gingrich would be the ruin of the Tea Party movement because it could not long endure his many contradictions or his polarizing personality. Since Palin endorsed Gingrich in South Carolina, albeit for that primary only and only to keep the "vetting" process open, many of her "friends" have protested her decision. A more recent post, in which the former governor attempts to turn the tables by accusing Romney supporters of attacking Gingrich from the left, seems to have been a breaking point for many more friends. Palin's argument was flimsy; the attack from the left seems to have consisted of no more than the "politics of personal destruction," which as I recall was a phrase coined by President Clinton to describe attacks on him from the right. She also takes umbrage at charges that Gingrich is un-conservative. In her eyes, and for good reason, Gingrich is the bridge from the Reagan era to the Tea Party era. There's a case to be made that the continuities Gingrich expresses outweigh those quirks of attitude that seem to disqualify him in many eyes from the conservative canon. But insofar as no one in the Romney, Paul or Santorum camps is claiming that Gingrich is "too" conservative, Palin has no basis for claiming that anyone in the dreaded "Republican establishment" is attacking Gingrich from the left.
Meanwhile, many in Palin's Facebook constituency balk at her embrace of an admittedly "imperfect" Gingrich. As might be expected, her "friends" are the sort for whom Gingrich's multiple marriages are damning -- they prove him a "serial adulterer." At the same time, not just in the Palin camp but in Florida as a whole, Gingrich's yearning for a moon colony seems to have revealed the "visionary" as something more like a crackpot. There's a long streak of reactionary contempt for such ambitions dating back at least to the mockery of John Quincy Adams for his advocacy of "lighthouses in the sky" in the 1820s. Gingrich's space vision, to the extent that it's actually admirable, probably damns him as a "progressive" with many reactionaries who can only see such a project as a folly or a boondoggle. For the most part, however, people simply aren't buying Palin's pitch of the former Speaker of the House of Representatives as an "outsider." Like my frequent correspondent Crhymethinc, they draw the reasonable conclusion that, once an insider, always an insider. That doesn't mean that there aren't multiple conflicting factions of insiders with sharply differing views, but it also doesn't mean that the minority of insiders gets to call themselves outsiders.
For people like Palin, the real problem with Mitt Romney seems to be that he doesn't strike fear into the right people. If he doesn't strike fear, they assume, then the establishment recognizes Romney as a "safe" candidate and the grass-roots should recognize him as an inadequate if not treacherous candidate. The fact that Gingrich does seem to scare many people is probably his strongest recommendation for reactionary populists like Palin who want "sudden and relentless reform in Washington to defend our republic." The fact that Romney seems to scare the likes of Palin, who continues to call for nonstop vetting until his weak point is found, will probably prove his strongest recommendation for moderate Republicans and swing voters outside the GOP. The Palins and Limbaughs continue to argue that Romney is the weakest-possible challenger against Obama, for reasons that remain mysterious outside the innermost gnosis of the elect, but they themselves through their protests most likely make him the strongest challenger. He may end up owing them the White House, without needing to show them any gratitude.