Republicans pick man with three wives instead of Mormon in South Carolina primary

Newt Gingrich's secret South Carolina weapon was fear.

So Newt Gingrich has won the South Carolina primary.

In the course of a week he turned around his campaign, transforming a serious deficit into a 13 point win. South Carolina voters rejected Romney’s time at Bain Capital, his Mormon faith, and his insincerity. They turned, instead, to the disgraced former Speaker of the House, a man whose personal life is quite frankly enough to disqualify him from any possible general election run; whose statements over the past few years in regards to Obama, religious freedom, and other controversial issues place him not only on the far-right of the political spectrum, but among its worst elements.

Gingrich can pander like no other, but his personal and political past should be enough to rouse Republicans from whatever drunken stupor has led them to this precarious destination.

Admittedly, one state does not a nomination make, but Romney has never been so vulnerable.

“This is the Republican crack-up people have been predicting for years,” writes Andrew Sullivan. “Gingrich is on a roll. I think he can win this – and then lose this in a way that could change America history. That is a brief impression in one moment of time. But I cannot see Romney winning this at this point. They are just not into him, and he’s an awful candidate.”

The Republican Party “deserves its spokesman,” Andrew argues. “But do not under-estimate the appeal to some of the idea of humiliating and removing the first black president. That’s what Gingrich is really about. He is giving them what they want. And it’s meat that has barely seen a skillet.”

It’s remarkable, really. There’s a sort of debauchery to it, this willingness to follow whoever says the most extreme thing, whoever is willing to play the raging fool.

What is conservatism in this country? What has it become?

Corey Robin argues that it’s the politics of the perpetual reactionary. Conservatism here and in Europe has been the manifestation of the status quo reacting to the forces of change and progress. Sullivan argues that true conservatism is more a matter of disposition and temperament; that the true conservative seeks balance. In some ways, these are very much the same thing though Robin’s conservative is a revolutionary in reverse, and Sullivan’s is a force for stability. (I am suddenly reminded of Ra’s al Ghul and his reactionary League of Shadows…)

These days I see conservatism more as a bastion for fear of the Other than anything else. The Other is the crux of every conservative argument: fear of the immigrant other (Mexicans!); fear of the cultural other (Liberals and Elitists!); fear of the religious other (Muslims!); fear of the racial other (black people!); and so forth. Conservatism is a sort of protectionism that inhabits the minds of the fearful (and make no mistake, this tendency creeps up on the left at times as well.)

Conservatives believe that we must protect our borders, stop the flow of communism or radical Islam, etc., fight big government but not the entitlements that big government so graciously hands out to us. No wonder most conservatives want to keep the military strong and well funded when so much fear is at play. A conservative in the American sense is not interested so much in turning back the clock as he is in stopping it altogether.

This – this harnessing of fear and resentment – is what Newt has tapped into on the right and he’s done so better than anyone else – better than the bumbling Perry or the more mild-mannered Santorum. It doesn’t matter if he has a plan or if he’s lying through his teeth or if his past is littered with failures both moral and political. It doesn’t matter if he’s just another big government rightwinger in disguise, pandering to whatever shreds remain of the once mighty Tea Party. What matters is what he represent – he’s become, quite suddenly, an avatar for all this terror at the browning of America, at the financial crash, the poor labor market. He’s become Obama’s doppelganger.

Obama is all that is Other and Newt is that comforting swell of rage that accompanies it. In this sense, Newt’s very familiarity is a blessing when it ought to be a curse.

Why Newt and not Romney? Certainly Romney has taken a hard-line stance on everything. I’m not sure it’s his Mormonism so much as it is his insincerity. When Romney talks about Obama or the various issues conservatives have with Obama, he just isn’t convincing, even to a liberal like me. He sounds like a phony. (Like I’ve said before, he has no soul.) Gingrich, on the other hand, has plenty of soul, dried up thing though it may be, and he can access deeper emotional resonance in the GOP base. Romney’s anger is flat and papery. Gingrich may indeed only be a better actor, but he’s a method actor, and he pulls off the role he knows he needs to play.

Whether he can sustain it is another question. Gingrich comes with his own cartload of baggage and plenty of moderates in the GOP outside of South Carolina are just as nervous about the former speaker as they are about the former governor of Massachusetts. This game is far from finished.

What a glorious sport we’ve made of our political system.

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What the booing of Ron Paul says about the Republican Party

The Republican Party isn't going to be home for non-interventionists any time soon.

I have a deep and abiding fondness for Ron Paul if only because he’s willing to stand before a crowd of conservatives and tell them that no, what the hawk-dominated conservative movement has been doing these many years is not actually a very conservative or Christian thing; Big Defense is still government and spending trillions of dollars on foreign wars of intervention and nation-building is still spending trillions of taxpayer dollars. I’m not a conservative and I don’t think I could vote for Paul, but to hear him make his case for non-interventionist foreign policy and an end to the war on drugs and so forth is to breathe a deep breath of fresh air in an otherwise stifling room of conservative boilerplate.

So when Ron Paul was booed for his unorthodox foreign policy views it came as little surprise. The conservative movement and the Republican Party are united in their love of a strong and aggressive military, a fully neoconservative and interventionist foreign policy, and a continuation of the war on drugs, police militarization, and so forth. There are a few dissenters closer to the mainstream of the party than Paul – Tom Coburn is one and even Rand Paul is more mainstream than his father – but by and large the GOP is exactly the place one might suspect to find a peacenik like Paul booed.

It’s unfortunate, of course, but it is what it is.

Mike Dwyer engages in some wishful thinking over at The League:

If I were to describe what I think young Republicans will look like in 10 years I would suggest they will be moderate on social policy, mainline conservative on fiscal policy and libertarian on civil liberties and foreign policy. They will be pro-life but also believe people have a right to smoke weed in their own home. They’ll pretty much ignore gay marriage. They will believe in a strong world economy but be isolationist about wars and having our troops in foreign lands.

I’m willing to concede that on social issues the GOP will become more moderate but not go so far as to say that they will be fully moderate. On gay rights issues the Republicans have already shifted left. Evangelicals are not happy about this, however, and it’s quite likely that a tension will still exist between modernist and traditionalist camps in the GOP in ten years. On civil liberties the Republicans will be just as bad as they are now; on drug policy I expect no better; and on foreign policy I expect a new crop of young hawks to take up the reins. There is absolutely no chance that they become isolationist, though I wouldn’t be surprised if a more protectionist domestic policy becomes more popular on the right.

Either way, the party has very little room for men like Ron Paul. His popularity is fierce and his followers are passionate – but his politics are of a time long since past when the Republican Party was home to advocates of a more sober foreign policy than the one the neoconservatives devised.

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Why I’m Rooting For Gingrich In South Carolina

Aspiring child janitors everywhere will not forgive Gingrich if he drops out after South Carolina.

Newt, this is not the former speaker we know and love. You don’t give up on politics, just on marriages!

Newt Gingrich came clean Tuesday afternoon, admitting that if he can’t win this state’s primary on Saturday, he probably can’t win the Republican nomination at all.

“If I don’t win the primary Saturday, we will probably nominate a moderate,” the former House speaker said, referring to Mitt Romney. “And the odds are fairly high he will lose to Obama.”

The question is whether Gingrich endorses Santorum if the frothy ex-Senator stays in the race after a South Carolina loss.

I suppose that depends on whether or not all this bad press actually puts a dent in Romney’s titanium exoskeleton. The fact that Perry, Santorum, and Gingrich all failed to get on Virginia’s GOP primary ballot may be a moot point if they all run out of money by March.

Obama must be sleeping like a damn baby these days. All these Super PACs are doing his job for him as the Republican field shreds itself to pieces. They’ll all line up like good soldiers behind Romney in the end (Ron Paul is a wild card on this point) but the damage will have been done.

Perhaps I just have a morbid fascination with Republican primaries, but I really do hope Gingrich or Santorum beats Romney so that this whole lovely mess gets dragged out even further.

(P.S. Totally unrelated random thought: why should we settle for just one president? We pay the president way too much. We could hire like 2,000 kids to do that job instead and teach them about hard work and responsibility all at the same time. Extend this logic to congress and you’ve not only saved money, you’ve dragged thousands of kids out of unemployment.)

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Jon Huntsman Is Out, Will Endorse Romney

Jon Huntsman is dropping out of the GOP race as early as Monday

I admit, I thought Huntsman would push through at least South Carolina, but Politico reports that this is not the case:

Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor who was seen by Democrats months ago as the potential biggest threat to President Obama in a general election, is dropping out of the race tomorrow and will endorse Mitt Romney, a campaign official confirms to POLITICO.

A source said that Huntsman’s rationale for backing Romney, who he has criticized for weeks on the campaign trail as lacking a “core,” is that he didn’t want to block the person best prepared in the field to beat Obama, and then to lead the country and grapple with the economy.

“Jon Huntsman is proud of the campaign he ran and the message of restoring trust in Washington,” said a campaign official familiar with his thinking. “He didn’t want to stand in the way of the candidate most likely to beat Barack Obama and turn the economy around. That’s Mitt Romney.”

It’s a tough ending for Huntsman, who basically went broke months back, uprooted his campaign to New Hampshire – only to come in a disappointing third place.

Sorry pundits, no more Jon Huntsman speculation. No more hopeful profiles. No more wasted endorsements. That’s all she wrote.

This probably strengthens Romney’s hand, though not with the groups he most desperately needs to make inroads with – social conservatives and Tea Partiers. Admittedly, if Gingrich doesn’t drop out and endorse Santorum then Romney will remain a lot stronger in South Carolina and Florida. But Gingrich’s ego won’t let him resign so soon.

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Jon Huntsman Picks Up a South Carolina Endorsement

Pundits and voters alike make politicians out to be more than what they are.

It’s probably too little too late for Jon Huntsman, but the Mandarin-speaking ex-governor and ambassador can tuck the endorsement of South Carolina’s The State under his belt:

Mr. Huntsman is a true conservative, with a record and platform of bold economic reform straight out of the free-market bible, but he’s a realist, whose goal is likewise to get things done. Under his leadership, Utah led the nation in job creation, and the Pew Center on the States ranked it the best-managed state in the nation.

He also is head and shoulders above the field on foreign policy. He served as President George H.W. Bush’s U.S. ambassador to Singapore and President George W. Bush’s deputy U.S. trade representative and U.S. trade ambassador, and the next entry on that resume is even more impressive: He was a popular and successful governor in an extremely conservative state, well positioned to become a leading 2012 presidential contender, when Mr. Obama asked him to serve in arguably our nation’s most important diplomatic post, U.S. ambassador to China. It could be political suicide, but he didn’t hesitate. As he told our editorial board: “When the president asks you to serve, you serve.”

We don’t agree with all of Mr. Huntsman’s positions; for but one example, he championed one of the nation’s biggest private-school voucher programs. And with George Will calling him the most conservative candidate and The Wall Street Journal editorial page endorsing his tax plan, independent voters might find less to like about his positions than, say, Mr. Romney’s or Newt Gingrich’s.

What makes him attractive are the essential values that drive his candidacy: honor and old-fashioned decency and pragmatism. As he made clear Wednesday to a room packed full of USC students on the first stop of his “Country First” tour, his goal is to rebuild trust in government, and that means abandoning the invective and reestablishing the political center.

One really is forced to recall, when reading things like this, how much of politics is style not substance. The pragmatic center-right independents are drawn to Huntsman’s demeanor as much as anything. Even if his record is far to the right of where they’d like to be, his “honor and old-fashioned decency” are enough to carry the day. I’m sympathetic to this, though I find it ultimately less persuasive than policies which I actually agree with. Of course, since we can’t trust any politician to stick to their guns on policy, maybe demeanor really does matter.

On the flip side you have the Herman Cains of the world, men who aren’t really all that conservative – who don’t really even know the proper conservative talking points – but who make waves with voters because of their folksiness or their willingness to come across as extreme. Who cares that Newt Gingrich’s record is pocked with glaring betrayals of conservative orthodoxy, three marriages, and a history of lobbying. The fact that he can talk the talk and call the Obama administration a “secular socialist machine” is all it takes.

Liberals have been suckered in by candidates as well. No better example comes to mind than Mr. Obama himself, a man whose record and statements portrayed him as every bit the centrist Democrat and liberal internationalist but whose many fans saw in his message of hope and change something far greater.

Something to remember when placing our eggs in lonesome baskets. Ron Paul has gathered about him a huge, diverse, and most importantly die-hard following. What if, in the end, he turned out to be just another politician? And what if our pragmatic, charming Jon Huntsman turns out to be just another boiler-plate Republican with a trigger finger?

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Should Conservatives Unite Behind Ron Paul To Defeat Romney?

Ron Paul has asked the rest of the field to drop out and help him defeat Romney.

Mitt Romney’s victory in New Hampshire Tuesday doesn’t cement the former governor’s lead quite as much as he had hoped. Ron Paul came in a strong second – maybe not as strong as Santorum’s close second in Iowa – but strong nonetheless. Since everyone who scores gets some delegates this time around – unlike past years where it was winner-take-all – this leaves Paul with the second most delegates. Now the Paul campaign is urging that everyone other than Romney drop out and unite to defeat Mitt and support Paul.

“Ron Paul tonight had an incredibly strong second-place finish in New Hampshire and has stunned the national media and political establishment,” said campaign chief Jesse Benton in a statement.

“When added to Paul’s top-tier showing in Iowa, it’s clear he is the sole Republican candidate who can take on and defeat both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.

“The race is becoming more clearly a two-man race between establishment candidate Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, the candidate of authentic change. That means there is only one true conservative choice.

“Ron Paul has won more votes in Iowa and New Hampshire than any candidate but Mitt Romney.

“Ron Paul and Mitt Romney have been shown in national polls to be the only two candidates who can defeat Barack Obama.

“And Ron Paul and Mitt Romney are the only two candidates who can run a full, national campaign, competing in state after state over the coming weeks and months. Ron Paul’s fundraising numbers — over $13 million this quarter — also prove he will be able to compete with Mitt Romney. No other candidate can do all of these things.

“Ron Paul is clearly the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney as the campaign goes forward.

“We urge Ron Paul’s opponents who have been unsuccessfully trying to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney to unite by getting out of the race and uniting behind Paul’s candidacy.”

Of course, this is never going to happen. Romney’s enemies may despise him but they tend to despise Paul just as much. It’s dubious that Newt Gingrich could deflate his ego long enough to forget that Paul called him a chickenhawk. Even Newt’s deep-seeded loathing for Romney won’t erase Paul’s own attacks on the former speaker.

Beyond that, while Paul is certainly positioned to run a national race, he may lose momentum in South Carolina. He’s polling around fourth place there behind Santorum, Gingrich, and Romney. No chance anybody but Perry drops out before South Carolina though the bumbling Texas governor doesn’t seem to realize this.

At some point we’ll start to see candidates leaving the race. Huntsman put all his eggs into the New Hampshire basket. If he can’t make headway in South Carolina or Florida I don’t see any reason he’d stick around. Santorum will likely get a boost in South Carolina though that may not last beyond Florida and neither he nor Gingrich have the warchest to keep this act up much longer.

So it is possible – likely even – that sometime in the near future this does become a two-man race between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. But don’t expect chickenhawks like Gingrich to lend him their support. Santorum and Huntsman are wild cards, but it’s hard for me to imagine either of them going to bat for Paul. Which means he’s on his own, paving the way for his son, Rand Paul, to win in the next election or the election after that.

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