Newt's Apollo 13 Candidacy
Between his angry Iowa concession speech and his anti-capitalist talk in the days before the New Hampshire primary, Newt Gingrich cemented several major problems with his campaign: an out-of-control temper, an unreliable ideological rudder, and plentiful baggage. These are problems that people who have been paying attention, including me, have pointed out. Newt's candidacy was like the Apollo 13 capsule and command module that had just experienced several explosions and was shooting into space without much power, and losing oxygen. Somehow, gravity from the Moon and the Earth combined to pull the Gingrich candidacy back and resulted in a victory in Saturday's South Carolina primary.
Fox News Analyst Juan Williams had a lot to do with Gingrich's return. One doesn't normally see a standing ovation at a presidential debate, and in fact the only time I have ever been tempted to stand up and cheer at a debate was when someone announced that the debate was over. But in last Monday's debate, Juan Williams asked the questions that provided Speaker Gingrich with the slow pitch, right above the plate. With his answers, Gingrich hit the ball right over center field stands and got a standing ovation.
Here is how it happened: Williams asked whether Gingrich's previous comments about black Americans, food stamps, and poor kids working as janitors would be offensive to black Americans. If Gov. Romney had been asked a similar question, he could probably have been counted on to artfully dodge the question, or at least diplomatically disagree with Williams. Instead, Gingrich explained:
You could take one janitor and hire 30-some kids to work in the school for the price of one janitor, and those 30 kids would be a lot less likely to drop out. They would actually have money in their pocket. They'd learn to show up for work. They could do light janitorial duty. They could work in the cafeteria. They could work in the front office. They could work in the library. They'd be getting money, which is a good thing if you're poor. Only the elites despise earning money.
Williams pressed further, only to be told that "the fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history[.] ... I know among the politically correct, you're not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable." Then, after referring to the unemployment along the I-73 corridor as not having been improved in three years, Gingrich concluded, "[E]very American of every background has been endowed by their Creator with the right to pursue happiness. And if that makes liberals unhappy, I'm going to continue to find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job, and learn some day to own the job." The crowd went wild.
In my own legal practice, I occasionally represent someone who is wrongfully accused. After many pre-trial hearings and court settings, where, in front of the defendant, the prosecutor explains to the court his version of the case and the ultimate guilt of the defendant, my client will get tired of hearing the wrong version of the case mentioned time and again. It gets old, and the client yearns for the truth to be spoken out loud. When we finally get in front of a jury and the truth of the case is heard out loud, the defendant so welcomes the words that sometimes, you can see tears coming down his face. Someone is finally speaking the truth in open court!
So too with American conservatives. For over three years we have heard a president describe the shortcomings of the American system; how racist and unfair America is; how unequal the country is; and how unfortunate it is that in our system, while some people succeed, other people will fail.
This narrative dovetails with the constant drumbeat from academia and Hollywood, and it echoes President Obama's angry anti-capitalist speech in Kansas a few weeks ago. The message heard by American conservatives has been that "we elites don't like you or your way of life." Gingrich's answer in Monday's debate was a full-throated defense of American capitalism, with a little Horatio Alger thrown in for good measure. Gingrich basically said that America is a great country with a great capitalist system, and he is here to defend it! Finally, somebody gets it!
Even Juan Williams said that Gingrich won the debate, and most South Carolinians agreed. And it isn't that the other candidates did anything wrong, but Gingrich spoke the words and had the attitude that American conservatives so desperately want to hear.
Gingrich's South Carolina victory has put him back in the race, much like the crew of the Apollo 13 spacecraft carefully made their way back to Earth after gravity pulled them back following some near-catastrophic explosions.
The Gingrich candidacy truly is the Apollo 13 Candidacy. It remains to be seen whether Gingrich's candidacy will skip off the Earth's atmosphere and fly back into space or his candidacy will make a successful re-entry into Earth's atmosphere and have a safe landing. But as the Tom Hanks character said at this stage of the Apollo 13 movie, "we have good gimbles" -- whatever gimbles are. Get some popcorn, folks: the rest of this nomination contest might be interesting, and, for a change, someone might show up to defend America.