South Carolina

01.21.12

Newt’s Winning Formula: He Does Scorn and Disgust Better Than Anyone

How did a hypocritical, erratic leader—a cosseted lobbyist masquerading as a scrappy insurgent—win in South Carolina? It’s all about Newt’s disdain.

Speaking to a packed house at Mutt’s BBQ in South Carolina’s Pickens County on Wednesday, Newt Gingrich encapsulated the conviction underlying his campaign. “[W]e frankly disdain the internationalist, secular socialists who would like to change our country,” he said, to applause and hoots of thrilled agreement.

Last night was a resounding victory for disdain. Gingrich may be a sexual hypocrite, an erratic leader, and a cosseted lobbyist masquerading as a scrappy insurgent, but he is an absolute maestro of contempt, and that is what South Carolina wanted.

Look at what turned his electoral fortunes around. It had little to do with his attack on Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital. I didn’t meet anyone in South Carolina, including Gingrich supporters, who had anything negative to say about Romney’s business record. Instead, the race turned in Gingrich’s favor during the debate on Monday, when Juan Williams asked him whether it might be “insulting” to black Americans to say they should demand jobs and not food stamps, and that poor kids should be put to work as janitors. Gingrich, puffed up with righteousness, went on the offensive. To the crowd, he seemed to be putting Williams in his place. No doubt their hearts pulsed as they imagined him doing the same to Obama.

“Only the elites despise earning money,” Gingrich retorted. When Williams pressed him on his references to Obama as the “food-stamp president,” the audience booed. Gingrich’s sneering, forceful response about not bowing to the forces of political correctness earned him a standing ovation. After that, his rallies started getting mobbed and his poll numbers soared. Gingrich trounced Romney on Saturday because of how effectively he channeled the Republican base’s apparent conviction that whining racial minorities are enjoying unearned privileges in the benighted Obama age.

Gingrich’s victory is a humiliating defeat for the self-appointed leaders of the Christian right who made a last-minute effort to coalesce behind Rick Santorum. But it’s a victory for the movement as a whole, which forgave Gingrich his marital trespasses because of how effectively he channels its grievances and resentments.

Evangelicals rallied around the thrice-married moralist: according to a CBS News exit poll, he won 44 percent of the born-again vote, compared with 21 percent each for Romney and Santorum.

He faithfully champions the notion, central to the religious right, that conservative Christians constitute an oppressed minority. “One of the key issues is the growing anti-religious bigotry of our elites,” he said in his victory speech, revising a frequent theme from his campaign. Conservative evangelicals rallied around the thrice-married moralist: according to a CBS News exit poll, he won 44 percent of the born-again vote, compared with 21 percent each for Romney and Santorum. Fifty percent of voters said that having a candidate who shared their religious beliefs mattered either “somewhat” or a “great deal”—suggesting a disinclination to vote for a Mormon—and they preferred Gingrich overwhelmingly. Unlike in 2008, Christian conservatives proved themselves able to deny the victory to a moderate Republican they distrusted. In doing so, they showed what it is they value most, and it’s not family values. It’s scorn and disgust, which Gingrich does better than anyone.