With Newt Gingrich’s victory in South Carolina, it appears that we have an actual race among Republican contenders now.
Along with most other commentators, I believe that Gingrich won because he played John King’s idiotic Thursday night debate question perfectly. Newt’s response proved that he read the political tea leaves correctly and realized that Republican voters are most concerned about the economy and the overall direction that our nation has taken during the last three years. They are also fed up with the media grandstanding and bias that singles out Republican candidates for attack while shielding Democrats from the same level of scrutiny.
The South Carolina exit polls clearly demonstrated the importance of the economy to Republicans. The majority of Republican voters were far less interested in the “values voters” social issues (abortion, virtuousness of candidates, etc.) that are projected on them by the media, and far more interested in their own financial well-being and the fiscal health of the United States. According to the exit polls, 98% of SC Republicans are very/somewhat worried about the economy, and 85% say economy/budget deficit is the most important issue during this election cycle. The old addage that “Americans vote with their pocket books” seems to be holding up quite well these days.
Within the last decade, the media has beclowned itself repeatedly with regard to election campaign coverage. The groundbreaking mainstream media embarrassment that proved bias beyond any reasonable doubt was the 2004 Rathergate scandal, compounded by the fact that there was an obvious collusion between the DNC and CBS News on the story. 2008 saw a continued downward spiral in mainstream media reporting, evidenced primarily by the media’s relentless, often tabloid-level attacks on Sarah Palin, particularly when contrasted with the “thrill up my leg” love-fest lavished on Barack Obama (check out this mashup of Charlie Gibson’s 2008 interviews with Sarah Palin and Barack Obama, if you don’t understand what I mean). 2008 also gave us JournoList, as well as allegations that numerous major media figures knew about John Edwards’ affair with Rielle Hunter but deliberately chose to spike the story until well after Edwards was safely out of the running for the 2008 Democratic Party nomination.
As other commentators have also noted, the days of the news media being able to spin stories and push narratives seem to be coming to an end. Newt Gingrich’s Thursday night debate performance was the single best inoculation against a potentially problematic issue that I have seen from a candidate since Bill and Hillary Clinton’s now infamous “Stand By Your Man” 60 Minutes interview during the 1992 Super Bowl. Any attempt to bring up Newt’s past troubled marriages (either by the press or by another rival) can now be dismissed as rehashing the past, when there are far more serious problems today that we should be talking about.
Gingrich’s victory may also embolden the other Republican candidates to take off their gloves when dealing with the press, and re-focus their attacks on President Obama’s dismal economic and policy record instead of each other. Romney’s inability to give a direct answer about his income tax returns during the same debate seriously damaged his credibility as a tough candidate. Republican voters know that Romney will be continually attacked about his wealth, his finances, and his experiences in the investment and venture capital businesses. (Another blatant example of hypocrisy from a media that seemed to care little about excess wealth when the Democrats nominated Thurston Howell III and Richie Rich in 2004). Had Romney politely but firmly answered the question by turning it around, and pointing out that he had already answered far more personal questions about his finances and business experience than Barack Obama ever did during the entire course of the 2008 campaign, and that the American people were more interested in salvaging their own incomes rather than digging dirt on Presidential candidates, the results of the SC primary might have been quite different. Hopefully Romney has learned his lesson.
Newt Gingrich is still a problematic choice for the party nomination. Of all those in the Republican field, he certainly inspires the deepest hatred among the press. He is a loose cannon with respect to off-the-cuff remarks. He has a tendency to come off as arrogant and temperamental. BUT – so far, when he is firing on all 8 cylinders, he is the candidate that best articulates the ideals of conservatism. He also has a fantastic grasp of issues down to the minutiae and seems to be the least fearful of the candidates when it comes to pointing out the deficiencies in the Obama presidency and pledging to focus first and foremost on rejuvenating the economy and getting Americans back to work.
That proved to be a winning combination in South Carolina. How well it will work elsewhere, remains to be seen.
PS – I couldn’t reference the “Stand By Your Man” interview without giving you a chance to see it. If you want to understand how the mainstream press has changed during the last twenty years, just watch this. Marvel at how the media worked with Clinton to help him construct his own alibi, then dismantle the charges leveled at him by Gennifer Flowers. Viewed through twenty years of hindsight, it’s obvious that Bill and Hillary are both so full of shit that the interview is almost unwatchable. And check out Hillary’s phony Arkansas accent. There is no way that CBS News could get away with something like this today; they tried in 2004 via “Rathergate” but were promptly smacked down by the blogosphere. Thank God those days are over.