After all the media drama and the newspaper headlines and the cable news show hoopla over Newt Gingrich’s massive win in the South Carolina GOP primary last week has finally died down, the mathematical facts have remained the same—Mitt Romney still has accumulated 5 more total delegates than Gingrich. But if the only parts of these so called debates we use to determine who won are the frequent exhibitions of verbal taunting and insult laden invective, then Mitt Romney has an obvious handicap, because he doesn’t know how to do these things very well.
The Romney people don’t seem to understand that it is the rat-a-tat-tat of follow up rejoinders to the initial attack question that will push Gingrich to be defensive and raise that nasty glare in the older man’s eyes that looks horrible in high definition. Gingrich, by contrast, has an implicit understanding of the real purpose of the debates for a candidate like himself whose campaign treasury and ground organization make him the underdog. Whether or not his own performances rise to the occasion, he nevertheless finds a way when the cameras are rolling to project a sense of magisterial importance to the nonsense that often emanates from his lips.
The question remains how Gingrich will use his newfound momentum out of South Carolina, as his campaign tunnels into the state of Florida. Are vilification of the media, a blizzard of provocative but implausible ideas and tireless jabbering about Saul Alinsky enough to get him through a busy primary calendar, much less the general election?
Short Sharp Shock Everlast: Newt Gingrich resets Republican race
Romney, by contrast, often seems to be tired of the whole campaign rigamarole, as if the dog-and-pony part of the political process isn’t really all that important. If he has the ability to impart a sense of larger than life drama to his actions, he hasn’t shown them yet.
The other tool Gingrich is very adept at using is the news media, the same news media he loves to proclaim his hatred for, because he knows that the media needs a political horserace the way Kim Kardashian needs the paparazzi. But after tonight, Gingrich will find himself without a free TV audience for several weeks. And in the next two months, there will be GOP primaries in only three southern states—Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia—with largely rural conservative voter populations like South Carolina in which his food stamp president song and dance act will really resonate.
The vacillation between Romney and Gingrich is symptomatic of schizophrenia writ large among the ranks of the Republican electorate, who seem to vacillate between the idea of President Obama as the most formidable Democratic incumbent in modern times and the idle hope that he will be as weak an opponent as Jimmy Carter.