Newt Struck Gold, Promptly Abandoned Mine
In South Carolina, Newt Gingrich correctly attributed his success to the fact that he had simply "articulated the deepest felt values of the American people." Then the former speaker promptly went to Florida and abandoned that in favor of the most deeply felt values of Beltway consultants -- a childish food fight with Mitt Romney.
Thus, with gravy stains on his tie and mashed potatoes in his hair, Newt Gingrich will limp away from Florida with less chance of becoming the nominee, let alone president. He may not finish even as runner-up (or even Miss Congeniality), a position he had seemingly wrapped up by always being the one insisting that "any of the eight (or seven or six or five or four) of us" is far preferable to Barack Obama, etc.
That notion actually is one of our "most deeply felt values." Voters are craving two things this cycle. First is a vision for defeating Barack Obama, and second is a vision for rolling back the red tide after this is done. Anything and everything else is theatre of the absurd. What Newt was tapping into with his "any of the eight" proclamations was the deeply felt value that priority one is defeating Obama -- because Obama's deeply felt values scare the hell out of us.
Also scary are the deeply felt values of San Francisco radicals and Marxists and Saul Alinsky and, while we're at it, the mainstream media. This is generally what the Tea Party and the midterms were all about. America as founded is being ripped out from under us in broad daylight, and this rip-off is being propelled and celebrated by our education, entertainment, and media elites. Far deeper than the "economic versus social" meme debated by shallow and isolated strategists and pundits, something much more foundational is going wrong, and so few are willing to confront this fact.
Frankly, the amorphous and hard-to-pin-down Tea Party movement -- fluid by its nature -- was able to capture this better than any single person. Ironically, without a single person to lead and therefore benefit from the success of the Tea Party movement in 2010, that same movement elevated to the GOP's highest rank a man totally incapable of understanding the movement: John Boehner.
Enter Newt. At first Gingrich's candidacy seemed a sideshow -- a figment of Sean Hannity's relentless badgering. This was not helped by a disastrous launch that included the unfortunately memorable phrase "right-wing social engineering." To be fair, Newt was taken somewhat out of context -- but politics is perception.
So Newt stumbled around with no money and no staff and only a few percentage points in all the polls. Something was building, however. All through the ups and downs of others, Newt was winning friends in every debate. Message boards and talk shows were full of "you know -- I don't support Newt -- but I really like what he says in these debates"-type comments.
Newt was moving up in hearts and minds, if not yet in the polls.
Consider: in relatively short order, Rick Perry's grand entry fizzled. Michele Bachmann -- so obviously resentful of Perry's dramatic entry -- self-immolated with a campaign that got less successful as time went on. Somewhere in this timetable Sarah Palin finally announced that she was not running. Ditto for Chris Christie. Several times. Through it all, however, Mitt Romney could not break out of his 25% range, and Santorum's "look at me" act wore thin. Many remained undecided.
These events led to the surge of the only other candidate who was focusing on liberal problems and conservative solutions: Herman Cain. A review of the debates will show indeed that only Cain and Newt were aiming at the enemy. Everyone else was in a circular firing squad. The likeable Cain surged rapidly. Largely unnoticed was Newt's slower simultaneous upward trend. Apparently hidden from the dark and shallow minds of the consultant class was the notion that the "deeply felt values" base-voter knew that the problem was Obama, not anybody in our field.
The reality is that while Cain was surging, Newt was moving into kind of a runner-up status in the minds of voters -- including some who had written Newt off over NY-23 or Pelosi on the couch or over the Ryan right-wing social engineering blunder. Newt was being simply brilliant in the debates -- not only at articulating values, but also at giving voice to the righteous anger of the conservative base. He was doing so with history and wit and perspective. He also did so with a healthy dose of in-your-face testicular fortitude unknown to the modern politician.
Thus, when Cain collapsed, Newt was finally able to convert his hell yeah! Finally someone is saying this fans into actual supporters. Many forget that this initially happened prior to Iowa and New Hampshire but was blunted under the weight of a withering attack of paid ads and brutal assaults from the establishment pundits.
What Romney and Ron Paul did in Iowa was simply shameful. Especially Romney, who, after campaigning for six years, still cannot give a single compelling reason to vote for him.
Newt was justifiably furious and unwisely fought back from the left with attacks on Bain Capital. That failed, and so did his campaign in the first two states. Then lighting struck again -- and the key word is again. Many pundits act like S.C. was a four-day fluke. It was not. It was a continuation of what had been slowly building the entire season that initially exploded in November.
In what are still largely misunderstood moments, Newt again tapped into the most deeply felt values and righteous anger of the Republican base. Yes, it felt good to see Juan Williams and John King put in their place, but that was not the main point. No, the main points were the real issues of race and unions and schools and Iran and bureaucrats and so on -- and, moreover, that someone was finally willing and able to look liberals squarely in the eye and tell them they are so damned wrong on all of those issues.
And they are. And we are right. Newt understands this, and he captured these timeless ideas with the magic of the moment. That's how he routed the field in South Carolina. He then followed that up with one great day of campaigning in Florida, thrilling very large crowds with more of the same. He had struck gold. He was on his way to a grip on the nomination process.
But then, for some inexplicable reason, he wiped that campaign gold off his hands and abandoned the gold mine. He quickly returned to the tar pit of the food fight with Mitt. And it has been all downhill from there. Frankly, it was stunning to observe.
Memo to anyone who is interested: the gold is still there, for any candidate -- including Newt -- who cares to mine it. We are still right, and liberals are still wrong. And we are still damned mad about it. If your consultants don't get it, fire them.
C. Edmund Wright is a frequent contributor to American Thinker and is currently a copy-writer and consultant for Winning Our Future, a PAC supporting Newt Gingrich and other conservative causes.