Did Gingrich do well in debates? Yes. Did Rick Perry’s endorsement help cement momentum in the final days? Yes. Did Mitt Romney stumble when he found himself on the defensive? Yes. Could there be more to it? Yes. Below I submit for your consideration four other reasons that led to Newt Gingrich’s South Carolina victory:
I Will Choose the Nominee, Thank You Very Much
First, there’s something to be said about the psychological distaste people have for not wanting to be told what to do – or, in this case, who their nominee will be. We want to make our own choices, not the “inevitable” choice.
At some point, probably during the two Palmetto State debates, the threshold South Carolinians had for the media and their fellow Republicans prematurely crowning Romney the presumptive nominee was breached and they snapped. Now, more states and more voters will get the opportunity to weigh in on the Republican Party’s nominee in what many, including Gingrich, are calling the most important election in our lifetime.
The Slights & Triumphs
Next is the disparity between conventional Beltway wisdom and good ‘ole Heartland recollection.
Voters don’t remember Gingrich feeling snubbed when he was forced to exit Air Force One from the rear of the plane or his many trials and tribulations as Speaker and his own caucus launching a coup that ultimately led to his final ouster. But as Byron York astutely put it recently, many Americans do remember the successes and, in his words, “the triumphs” of Gingrich’s previous government tenure.
Those triumphs include big ideas like the Contract with America and working together with Bill Clinton to hash out compromises on the big issues of the day. Not to mention when voters have seen Gingrich in the past decade it’s been on the dust jacket of his latest best seller or pontificating about current events on television.
In the District, however, everyone remembers the slights. Why? Because it’s personal. Middle America has no reason to feel slighted by Newt Gingrich. He never complained about being forced to exit the rear door of their RV or suggested chucking the family’s yearly hiking excursion in favor of taking the family for a spin on a Mars rover.
It’s hard for folks too immersed in the bubble to think outside the box.
Gingrich Revels In Negative Attacks
Which leads us to this: the Republican primary electorate is exceptionally distrustful of any news outlet that doesn’t include the word FOX in its name and Gingrich is more adept at playing to that crowd than anyone else in the field. As Alex Castellanos said on CNN Saturday night, Gingrich possesses a “dog whistle” only conservatives understand.
His consistent righteous indignation toward the media and any question he believes to be out of bounds has become a hallmark of Gingrich’s candidacy. He did it with Juan Williams, John King and others that came before them.
It works because Republicans are likely to have more visceral feelings towards the media than towards its chief antagonist, allowing Gingrich to become a sympathetic figure and frame himself on his own terms.
“Of course the mainstream media would attack someone with such bold, transformative ideas.”
This tug-of-war and unending appetite for conflict from both sides has actually buoyed Gingrich’s campaign. Each time a rival campaign releases an unflattering oppo hit hoping to punch him further down they involuntarily offer him another life jacket to swim back to shore.
He welcomes it. He wants them – the media, the other campaigns – to attack him more. The more attacks leveled against him, the more he can deflect and curse today’s media culture. So even when the coverage has been positive, Gingrich has shunned the media because friction is a greater asset to his campaign. Consider this when wondering why Gingrich spent little time in New Hampshire trumpeting his endorsement from the Union Leader. He probably preferred they smack him over the head with a lyrical two-by-four.
Don’t worry, the media is getting what they want too – a great story! Gingrich’s campaign has been a drama told in three acts. In act one, he bled financially dry, shipped off on a Greek cruise, his advisers fled and his campaign imploded. In act the second, he rose like a phoenix from the ashes in the days before the Iowa caucuses only to tumble back to earth bruised and beaten. Ah! But in his defiant third act, he set the town ablaze with a sharp tongue and wit admired, scorned and feared – by all!
See? It’s fun to watch.
Big Ideas, Even Crazy Ones, Embolden The American Dream
Finally, isn’t part of the American dream…dreams? Thinking big and bold without a care for what others think? Charting your own course with a “stop me if you can” attitude? As a society we encourage ourselves and our neighbors to do so. Why then should our leaders be discouraged from doing so, even when the ideas are a little bit ridiculous?
We’re living in a yet youthful century in which Americans aren’t hopeful, they are divided. Could there be credence to the notion that, as grandiose as they are, Gingrich’s ideas leave us at least a little bit hopeful of a more prosperous future of American butt-kicking?
Just thinking out loud.
(FRS likes to point out we have no dog in this fight. Simply write what we see.)