The Medium

The Republican party has a very big problem on its hands, in the person of one Newton Leroy Gingrich. With his win in South Carolina, he has an actual shot at becoming their nominee for president, which, as the clear-headed among them know, would be a disaster. Just look at these poll results. Over the last six weeks or so as the spotlight turned on the presidential race, Gingrich's unfavorable ratings have shot up, presumably because Americans are being reminded of why they disliked him so much back in the 1990s. He's now viewed unfavorably by an average of 58.6 percent of the public, and favorably by only 26.5 percent. But that one-quarter of the electorate happens to be known as the Republican base. How is he doing it? The answer is that he has become a medium through which that base hears themselves speaking.

Nobody knows how to reach in and tickle the Republican id quite like Newt, to work their resentments, their fears, their anger and their hatred. And what he's saying to them now is, make me the vehicle for your emotions. They look at Mitt Romney and say, "Meh," but Newt promises them a more, shall we say, vigorous campaign. He will channel their spirits, speak with their voices, and feel what they feel. He'll shake his fist at the liberal media and bravely laugh in the face of political correctness. He'll make those liberals mad by telling them the truth.

Gingrich seems well aware that this is now his path. Look at his victory speech from the other night. It wasn't the most inspiring performance, but he looked as though he was ticking off a list of the things and people conservatives hate, and hit all the points that make them cheer. He name-checked Reagan and hit the media, judges, "anti-religious bigotry." He assailed the "elites who have been trying for a half-century to force us to quit being American," noting a couple of times that it's "the elites in New York and Washington" who are the real problem (if there is a human being more of a "Washington elite" than Newt, it would be tough to determine who it might be, but never mind). He made a teleprompter joke about Obama, brought up American exceptionalism, and said Obama draws his inspiration from "Saul Alinsky, radical left-wingers, and people who don't like the classical America."

But here was the line that summed it up, when Newt explained his success: "It's not that I am a good debater. It is that I articulate the deepest-felt values of the American people." He may say "the American people," but what he really means is that he articulates not just the values but the emotions of the Republican base. He is their medium. Which wouldn't be nearly enough to win the general election, and I don't think it'll even be enough even to get him the nomination. But this year, almost anything seems possible.

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