Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina—One of the larger tourist landmarks in the Charleston-area is a decommissioned warship that’s been converted to a museum. Naturally—as a “grandiose” person—this is where Newt Gingrich held his final rally before the South Carolina primary. Due to bad weather, the event was moved below the flight deck into a hangar. The delay was annoying for reporters—and early birds—but it was great for attendance; by the time Gingrich came to the stage, the hangar was packed with people.
Gingrich was introduced by the Speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives—who recently endorsed the GOP hopeful—and General James Livingston, who praised the former House Speaker as someone who knew how to “kill the enemy.”
As for the actual speech, it began with a group of Cub Scouts, who he brought on stage, and a heckler. The person yelled at Gingrich to release his ethics report, and in a move that earned him cheers from audience, he calmly told the heckler to “Do your research, instead of booing mindlessly.” He then added, “Go online and print it out. And after you’ve read all 900 pages, come back and talk.”
This was the Gingrich that Republicans love. A confident, combative firebrand, who exudes a persona of erudition, even as he offers an incoherent take on the world, the issues, and the views of his opponents. To wit, Gingrich accused Barack Obama of believing in a “Saul Alinsky European radicalism where the stage is sovereign and we are its subjects.” This is absolute nonsense—Obama is a center-left Democrat with centrist instincts—but it sounds correct to he audience. They were thrilled.
Indeed, the enthusiasm was infectious. Everyone I spoke to was either a long-term fan of the former House Speaker, or a new supporter, who was eager for Gingrich to win the nomination, and—as one attendee said—“destroy” Obama in debates. “I like him because I really enjoy watching him debate…he could just tear people apart and be really intelligent about it. And I would to see him do that to Obama”, said Cathy Nichols, a local high school student who plans to vote in Saturday’s primary.
For everyone I talked to, I asked if they were concerned about the recent revelations from Gingrich’s ex-wife, who alleged that the House Speaker wanted an “open marriage.” Chuck Gregoire, a semi-retired internet marketer, had a response that was pretty typical of the reactions I received. “We really need someone to come out and kick some but, and I think that’s really where the country is now, and he’s got the ego to get it done.”, said Gregoire. He clarified—he wouldn’t “trust him with my wife,” but he does believe that he could lead the country and correct for Obama’s presidency.
Brian and Cathy Renaud, who moved to South Carolina from Michigan after losing their homes to the Great Recession, were also dismissive of the allegations against Gingrich. “I think we all see through the media’s ploy,” said Brian, “Putting her up to talk two days before a primary? Give me a break.”
Likewise, few people gave any credence to the notion that Gingrich showed racial insensitivity with his comments on poor children or work ethic. “I grew up rather poor and the one thing my parents instilled in me was a work ethic,” said Diane, who declined to give her last name, “I think work ethic is very important, irrespective of race. It’s a universal—kids need to know how to work.”
Bill, who was standing in the group with Diane, added his two cents. “I think we’re long beyond the racial divide in this country, and I think that was all about helping less fortunate folks,” he said, “there’s more people on food stamps that are white then black, and I don’t think there was any racial element to that at all.”
Normally, I’m skeptical of surges, even late ones. When it comes down to it, the only poll that matters is the election itself. But after seeing the sheer enthusiasm of Gingrich’s supporters, I can’t help but think that he has a very good day ahead of him.