I had a dream last night. There was a primary somewhere and Newt Gingrich was closing in on the magic number of delegates needed to win the GOP nomination when suddenly they raised the number. I don’t know what it means but it may be prophetic.
I think last night was a game-changer. Ever since Newt first surged into the lead back in November he has been the target of a smear campaign coming from the Romney campaign and the GOP establishment. In Newt’s case most of the smears are true, but such an all-out attack on a Republican by other Republicans is unheard of in modern history.
Newt withstood the attacks and came back to win a decisive victory in a state that was not a natural stronghold. Most of the punditocracy is ignoring the 500 lb gorilla in the room – the GOP voters don’t want Mitt Romney. Just one week ago the experts were speculating that Mitt would run the table and essentially close the race with a win in South Carolina.
Then Newtmentum happened.
There are two main keys to Newtmentum. The first is Not-Romney. Approximately 25% of the GOP (including the establishment) supports Mitt Romney. The other 75% want someone else. Part of it is that “Mormon” thing. I was telling people four years ago (when Mitt was considered by some to be a frontrunner) that there was no way the fundiegelicals were going to vote for a Mormon.
Anti-Mormon bigotry still exists in this country, and not just on the evangelical right – there are lots of lefties that hate ‘em too. I don’t want to discuss the reasons for AMB in this post, but it’s real. Last night’s exit polls showed that the people who said religious beliefs were very important to them voted overwhelmingly for Gingrich.
But that’s not the only reason the right-wing doesn’t want Romney. More than anything the opposition is ideological. They consider Mitt to be a RINO – Republican In Name Only. His record and statements from his days in Massachusetts are anathema to conservatives. And then there’s that Romneycare thing.
Last but not least, Mitt has baggage – money bags. This might seem a little counterintuitive because of the long-standing connection between the Republican party and big business, but the rank and file GOP is almost as leery of the 1%ers as the OWS crowd. That is the reason that the filthy rich who jump into politics have rarely been successful. And don’t forget – it was the House GOP that opposed the TARP bailouts.
Each of Mitt’s strengths is a double-edged sword. He is a successful businessman/he got rich as an investment banker. He has experience as a governor/he was elected in a blue state where he ran and governed as a moderate-to-liberal. He is devoutly religious/he’s a Mormon.
But being Not-Romney is only one of the keys to Newtmentum.
There is a lot of anger out there these days. That’s not surprising considering the economy. Millions of people are hurting. Millions more that aren’t hurting are scared they will be soon. Most of the anger is still unchanneled.
Anger was the key to the early success of OWS, but then they sacrificed their credibility when they took a hard left turn into Smelly Hippieland. Anger is a powerful emotion but it’s hard to successfully channel it into political action. The same anger that fires up the mob scares away the masses.
One of the things that made Ronald Reagan successful was his ability to mix anger and optimism. It might have been all bullshit but it worked. Newt Gingrich is a Reagan acolyte. Like Howard Beale he articulates the popular rage, but then he shifts gears and starts talking about a utopian future.
Watch this clip from the first South Carolina debate earlier this week: