Newt Wins South Carolina–But Then Shows Why He Might Blow It

by John R Guardiano on January 22, 2012

Rick Santorum lost the South Carolina primary, but decisively won the primetime speech contest.

What are we to make of Newt’s win in South Carolina? Several things, I think:

1. Newt is a winner. Newt won decisively and across-the-board, amongst virtually every income and demographic group.

This strongly suggests that he has a broad-based appeal with deep roots in the GOP primary electorate. And this, in turn, means Newt will almost certainly be a force to be reckoned with in Florida, Nevada, Minnesota, Ohio, and perhaps all the way to the convention in Tampa, Florida.

2. Newt is a fighter. GOP primary voters want a fight (for the nomination) and a fighter (in their nominee). And they don’t want the party apparatchiks and the media elites to short fuse the nomination process by demonizing worthy and legitimate opponents such as Newt.

Talk radio host Michael Medved says that Newt vs. Mitt is a “choice of personality, not policy. On the big issues,” he explains, the two men have “nearly identical positions,” though they are temperamental opposites: “hot v. cool, passion v. pragmatism.”

That’s mostly but not completely true. There are important policy differences.

For example, Newt, unlike Romney, is for abolishing the immoral and unethical capital gains tax. Still, for the most part, the two men share very similar views.

That said, passion matters in politics — a lot. Indeed, the ability to motivate voters and to mobilize your supporters is an integral part of “electability.”

So let’s not pretend that the choice between Mitt and Newt is trivial or unimportant. It’s not. Mitt has certain advantages, but so, too does, Newt. And Newt’s most important advantage may be his ability to fight and to frame issues.

3. Newt can blow it. I watched in dismay as Newt gave his acceptance speech last night. It was a pure and unmitigated disaster — especially when compared to Rick Santorum’s far more polished and uplifting speech.

In fact, if you turned the TV off and just looked at the visual images (which, in effect, is what many people do, as they often have the TV on in the background while doing other things), you would have thought that Santorum had won and Newt had lost.

Santorum was smiling, positive and upbeat. He joked and spoke movingly about his wife, father and grandfather.

Newt, by contrast, was all somber and serious. He never really smiled. And he rambled on incoherently about Saul Alinsky — a man unknown to the vast majority of the voting public. (Jennifer Rubin observed the same thing that I did, and good on her for doing so.)

There, then, in one night, and within the span of only one hour, we saw the two sides of Newt: We saw the good Newt who can win this thing and, in so doing, “fundamentally transform American politics,” as he would say.

But we also saw the bad Newt, the undisciplined and unfocused Newt: the Newt who too often tries to wing it and fails.

I’m rooting for the good Newt, but I fear the bad Newt.

Cross-posted at the Minority Report blog.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bill Fabrizio January 22, 2012 at 11:25 am

Mr. Guardiano:

I have a much different take on Newt’s acceptance speech. While you are correct that he did not smile much, what I witnessed was a candidate who appeared to be physically spent after a tough week.

However, despite not being very photogenic, and despite appearing very tired, his acceptance speech was not egocentric; it was gracious to his opponents; and Newt was pretty clear on how he intended to take on and defeat Obama.

Also, since his audience was primarily Republicans, I believe your comment that Saul Alinsky is “a man unknown to the vast majority of the voting public”, while correct, is not relevant to those whom he was trying to reach (i.e., Republican primary voters, who are all very familair with Alinsky). Gingrich will have time to educate other voters on Alinsky when and if his campaign progresses.

While Gingrich may be volatile enough to cause himself problems going forward, to rate his acceptance speech in South Carolina as the “bad Newt” is simply over the top and unwarranted.

Bill Fabrizio

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2 tim January 22, 2012 at 10:53 pm

I listened carefully to all 4 candidates’ post-results speeches. Romney and Santorum were OK; Paul was good; Newt was great.

The room was far too hot, and everyone on the stage was clearly very uncomfortable, including Newt. Nonetheless, Newt delivered a tactically brilliant speech.

He thanked many key players. He acknowledged Santorum and Paul voters, letting them know that Newt will will adopt and champion key issues from both voting groups.

He rallied money to his cause for the Florida leg ahead. And he leveraged the win to bolster the belief that Newt is “the only one” who can defeat President Obama — and “the only one” who can actually change Washington.

Most importantly, he expressed his vision for America in clear and concise language.

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