Newt Gingrich may have almost no chance of becoming president (even if he does win the South Carolina primary tomorrow, as looks increasingly likely), but the man knows his audience. Let's take a look at the way he handled the first question of last night's debate, about allegations by wife #2, Marianne, that when she found out he was cheating on her with a young congressional staffer (who would later become wife #3), he proposed that they have an open marriage, also known as, "You keep your mouth shut and I sleep with whoever I want." After all, Newt does firmly believe that God made marriage a covenant between a man and a woman, and the man's mistress. Could he somehow turn this embarrassing tale to his advantage? Yes he could:
The first thing to understand is that ABC News had been promoting the interview, and that portion in particular, since the day before. And Gingrich knew there was no way in the world he wasn't going to get asked about it at the debate. So he had ample time to prepare a response. That makes his feigned anger all the more impressive, calibrated so perfectly as it was. You'll notice that apart from half a sentence saying that the charges are false, he doesn't address the substance of them at all. Instead, in a bit of expert redirection, he turns it into an attack on the media. He's getting quite good at this; in the last debate, when he got asked about the racial implications of his assertion that Barack Obama is a "food stamp president," he did the same thing, turning it into an attack on liberals, the poor, and the mean black guy who was asking the question.
We often say that candidates have to convince voters that they're "one of us." In the case of Republican primaries, Newt understands that what that really comes down to is, "Do you hate the people we hate?" One problem with Mitt Romney is that he doesn't really seem like a hater. Sure, he'll mouth the antagonistic words, but you don't see the fire of hatred in his eyes. Look at that video, and you can see the fire of hatred in Newt's eyes. I happen to think it's entirely an act, but Newt is a good actor, much better than Romney. He's got the crowd cheering literally from the first word out of his mouth. They were primed and ready to jeer at those awful media, and Newt delivered exactly what they wanted.
The best part of this clip, though, is when Newt says that these kind of sleazy questions make it "harder to attract decent people to run for public office." Fair enough. But what about utterly loathsome people? It's not like Newt thought his serial infidelity wasn't going to come up if he ran for president. And yet he ran anyway. It's really a tribute to how much he loves his country.