Psst: Hear the Roar and Pay Attention
After Thursday's debate was over in Charleston, I assumed that Newt had not only survived the Marianne episode, but had benefitted from it. I also figured he would win S.C. and that Santorum would fade as a challenger to him. Everyone I knew who saw the debate reached this same conclusion.
Yet as incredible as it may seem, all day Friday we were treated to multiple reviews from members of the conservative media on how Rick Santorum "won" the Thursday night debate in Charleston and that how this would help him in South Carolina. Dick Morris flatly proclaimed that Santorum did so well he might sweep in and take second from Newt Gingrich. Morris also predicted this would mean a S.C. win and nomination for Mitt Romney.
Terrence Jeffrey also proudly proclaimed a big Santorum win in the debate. On the Rush Limbaugh Show, the host refused to give his analysis, but mentioned multiple times that his personal email caucus was swept by the Pennsylvania Senator. Charles Krauthammer, meanwhile, admitted that Newt won it "in the first three minutes" but that Santorum had a very strong night after that.
And I'm thinking: what debate did these folks watch? Do they not pay attention to the crowd reaction? Do they not know what it indicates? Admittedly, Santorum got off some attacks that might have seemed like good hits, but they fell flat in the hall. Newt dominated crowd reaction, Mitt was a pretty clear second in that regard and of course Ron Paul's crowd was the few, the proud, the loud.
Santorum? All he got were those little polite 'golf claps' when someone out of contention taps in a bogey putt. Pay attention. This means the attacks Rick was selling were not being bought.
And where did the crowd roar? They roared when some premise of liberalism or some particular liberal was taken apart. No Republican on Republican crime was rewarded. Even Mitt, no favorite of the red meat crowd, got his loudest moments when he finally decided to support capitalism with some fervor. Newt of course got the big reaction over the week by attacking liberal members of the media who were either attacking conservative beliefs on the whole (Juan Williams and the race card) or protecting Obama by attacking Republicans' personal lives (John King).
The math is clear. While negative ads can be effective if run in huge numbers -- as in Iowa -- what the voters are craving in the debates and on the stump is someone who can look liberals squarely in the eye and tell them why we are right and they are wrong. The American conservative base has had to put up with being called stupid, racist, greedy and unfair for decades by not only the Democrats but the vast majority of the media. The pent up frustration of these decades is magnified by the fact that George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush and John McCain would not or perhaps could not confront this.
In fact, rare is the Republican candidate at any level who refuses to put up with this and fights back. When they do, they become sensations. Even Chris Christie and Donald Trump -- neither one a real conservative -- earned the love of the Republican base by simply deigning to fight back. Marco Rubio and Allen West are far more popular and well known than they have any right to be simply because they refuse to accept the argument on liberals' terms. They fight. They elicit the roar.
Which brings us back to the crowd roar in South Carolina. In Myrtle Beach and Charleston combined, there were probably 3-4 thousand folks total in attendance. Now while that is not significant in and of itself -- consider that every day we look at polls with far fewer folks and consider them gospel truth on everything from elections to mouthwash. In other words, my assumption was that those few thousand folks are indeed a darned good cross section of Republican voters across South Carolina and in fact the country. It wasn't the few thousand who rose to give Newt his standing ovations per se, it's that there were probably hundreds of thousands cheering at their television sets across the nation as well. That something like 60% of all likely voters in South Carolina did watch those debates was merely confirmation of just how important the crowd reaction should be assumed.
Yet the elites ignored the roar. After all, the roar came from the unwashed. It came from the fans of cockfights. It came from tea party folks and other such rabble. Inside the sterile cable studios and on their laptops, the pundits scored their debate and their election prospects without the roar. They have their little formulas about who has to raise doubts here and who has to score points there.
What they don't understand is what the roar means.
The roar is passion. The roar is intensity. The roar is pent up frustration. The roar, put another way, is the national mood of conservatives. It is a roar that will demand a fighter. It will demand that those who want our votes must not cower in the face of the liberal template. If fact, it is a roar that demands that we do not accept any liberal templates.
That's why Newt has gotten all the roars, and why he has vaulted into serious contention only days after being written off. Anyone else who wants the roar should heed the lesson. The roar comes only at the expense of liberals and liberalism. You won't get the roar attacking others on the stage. Tell your consultants to take a hike if they tell you otherwise.
That roar was an easy predictor of what would happen Saturday night in South Carolina. I knew it and everyone I know knew it late Thursday night. And it was. Seems like no one inside the beltway got it. Until Saturday evening.