Nice Try

Republican Debate: Gingrich’s Grandiosity Withstands Santorum’s Attacks

Senator Sweater Vest valiantly blasted Gingrich’s pomposity. But he’s no match for the Ego that ate the debate. By Michelle Cottle

John Moore / Getty Images

“Elect us, and your kids will be able to move out because they’ll have work!”

So spake Newt Gingrich Thursday evening, in the sort of meaningless, pie-in-the-sky, detached-from-reality bluster that has him surging so dramatically in this primary.

Electoral politics has always been about managing public expectations, about promising what voters desperately want to hear without revealing yourself to be totally full of shit.

Gingrich has been navigating this line by virtue of volume and vitriol. No one overpromises like the former speaker: Vote for me, and every God-fearing, patriotic American will be rich, happy, and sexually satisfied!

Arguably, the only thing Newt is even better at is grabbing credit: Ronald Reagan? Great guy—but he owes most of his success to me.

Both of these talents were on vivid display in Charleston. And, tonight, Rick Santorum repeatedly and loudly cried bullshit on the speaker.

“Grandiosity has never been a problem with Newt Gingrich,” Santorum said of his opponent’s shameless self-promotion. “A month ago, he was saying, ‘Oh, I’m inevitable.’ It was, ‘I’m destined to do it.’”

Of Newt’s electoral braggadocio, Santorum charged, “These are not cogent thoughts.”

Spot on, brother. And yet…

I’ll bet $10,000 that none of Santorum’s attacks tonight will make a lasting impression on anyone who doesn’t already share his concerns.

It’s not really Santorum’s fault. The senator was, even more than usual, passionate, cogent, and earnest in his criticisms. Not to mention accurate.

But there is just something about Senator Sweater Vest that doesn’t resonate, no matter how fired up he gets. It is a matter of presentation: He is too plaintive, too beseeching—even when he’s got both barrels blazing. He is begging rather than commanding us to recognize Gingrich’s many absurdities.

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The speaker, by contrast, comes across as both condescending and thuggish even when he’s trying to woo. He is the junkyard dog to Rick Santorum’s yipping puppy.

In other words, he is just what much of South Carolina electorate has been pining for.

Saturday’s primary is looking more exciting by the second.