GOP’s Manly Man Melee in South Carolina


After Rick Perry’s bold bid to jump start a second Civil War, his attack on a NATO ally’s government as “Islamic terrorists” and his stirring defense of the sacred right of Marines to pee on dead bodies, Newt Gingrich had no choice but to raise the stakes in the virility sweepstakes that is the South Carolina primary.

Oh sure, Eye of Newt did all he could to inflame racial tensions with his much-replayed set-to with Juan Williams at Monday’s Martin Luther King Day debate. But it was not until a campaign event the next morning that he showed the full-blown extent of his testosterone-fueled commitment to transforming the nation’s presidential election into a true dick-measuring contest.

At a town hall meeting of attended by about 200 people at the Art Trail Gallery, a supporter told Gingrich, “We’ve got to bloody Obama’s nose. You’ve mentioned challenging him to seven, three-hour debates … if he doesn’t agree to that, how do you plan to aggressively take the gloves off and go after him?” Gingrich responded, “I don’t want to argue with you about the analogy. I don’t want to bloody his nose, I want to knock him out.”

 The audience applauded.

Of course they did.

Newt works out with the knife and the fork. Putting aside the practical matter that the mere physical effort of climbing into a ring with Obama would leave the corpulent demagogue gasping for air, his pugilistic fantasy life illustrates an important truth about the GOP primary contest and its electorate.

Far from just defeating a partisan opponent with whose policies they disagree, large segments of the Republican party’s base appear determined to punish, revile and humiliate him, as they angrily and aggressively seek to “take back our country” from the “food stamp president” whose, um, landslide election to the White House they have viewed as illegitimate from the start .

Not since Philadelphians booed Santa Claus at an Eagles game in the City of Brotherly Love has an audience displayed such barmy derangement as Monday night’s mob in South Carolina, which erupted when Ron Paul had the gall to suggest the Golden Rule might be a worthy principle of foreign policy.

The Golden Rule? Really?

Right meets right: But don’t take our word for it. No less an authority on the conservative mind than the National Review has noted the difficulties which the winguts in the GOP cuckoo caucus, whose howling histrionics were on full display at the South Carolina debate, present to the party’s effort to win back the White House.

The most acute division on the right — the one that will give Mitt Romney the most trouble — is not between moderates and hard-core right-wingers, between electability-minded pragmatists and ideologues, or between the Tea Party and the Republican establishment. It is between those Republicans who disagree with Barack Obama, believing his policies to be mistaken, and those who hate Barack Obama, believing him to be wicked.

Mitt Romney is the candidate of the former, but is regarded with suspicion, or worse, by the latter. The former group of Republicans would be happy merely to win the presidential election, but the latter are after something more: a national repudiation of President Obama, of his governmental overreach, and of managerial progressivism mainly as practiced by Democrats but also as practiced by Republicans.

In his smart and trenchant analysis, Kevin D. Williamson explores the very different values and ideas of the two wings of the Republican party, helping to explain why Romney has struggled to close the deal, despite the stature and credentials elevating him above his political pygmy rivals.

To his credit, Williamson even acknowledges the role of race in deconstructing the views of those Republicans for whom merely winning the White House is not enough. While arguing that race is far less of a factor than many Democrats believe, Williamson nonetheless forgoes the see-no-evil insistence by most conservative commentators that they are shocked – shocked! – that anyone could even suggest the color of Obama’s skin has anything at all to do with the visceral feelings simmering among the GOP rank and file.

A different Democrat, or a Republican, would have put together a different kind of stimulus package, and probably (probably) a smaller one, but the wrongheaded thinking behind it is hardly revolutionary. Cash for Clunkers and Solyndra are the most characteristic of President Obama’s initiatives, marked as they are by fanciful thinking, cronyism, and futility.

But President Obama presses the Right’s buttons in more or less the same way President Bush pushed the Left’s, and that is about something other than (or in addition to) his policy choices. It is about who he is. At this point, Democrats will say, in that smug way of theirs: “And who he is is black, and that’s what this is all about.” I am not such a Pollyanna (or so deaf) as to believe that the tone of the president’s skin is a complete non-issue among his most bitter critics, but it is a much smaller issue than Democrats such as Eric Holder would have you believe.

Level heads and hot heads. By broaching such issues, which Romney no doubt would prefer be discussed in “quiet rooms,” NR not only elucidates the dynamics of the GOP primary contest but also provides a bracing dose of level-headed political reality for the hot-heads amid their conservative readership.

 For conservatives, it is a question of whether we choose a president based on who he is or based on what he can do. Those conservatives who believe that the way forward is to nominate the anti-Obama hold that Americans are so fed up with the president that they are ready to elevate a hardcore ideologue to the presidency. Andy McCarthy is representative of them when he writes that Gingrich is a “plausible candidate this time around, when in many cycles he would not be, because the main issue is Obama’s radicalism — the president has people frightened enough that what would appear to be insurmountable baggage in some elections could be cancelled out this time around.”

 But who are these frightened Americans for whom “the main issue” in 2012 is going to be Obama’s so-called radicalism? (And what do we call the 35 percent of Americans who support a Canadian-style single-payer health-care system? Insurgents?) Are we so sure of their support? In what states do they live, and why do they fail to show up in the polling data, which consistently find that voters’ main concerns are the economy, jobs, and related issues?

Bottom line: Alas for Williamson and like-minded Republican rationalists, the all-but-certain failure of the Gingrich-Perry-Santorum crowd to transform their bitterness and tantrums into a successful bid for their party’s nomination means that Romney will be forced to face off against Obama without the full force and energy of the GOP rank and file.

A new CNN poll shows that, just as the 2012 campaign begins in earnest and Romney has become all but inevitable, Democrats are closing the voter enthusiasm gap Republicans rode to their takeover of the House in 2010.

The enthusiasm numbers show that Romney may be hampered by his own issues. While he does do well with independent voters, many of whom are dissatisfied with Obama’s job performance, Romney can ill afford a depressed base if the election turns out to be very close.

Next up: Mitt challenges Obama to a duel at Fort Sumter.

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There are 5 comments for this post

  1. avatar pyrdog1 says:

    i think you miss something on the race issue. I just spent some time with some very conservative Republicans who left California, where they grew up and retired in Idaho. While i firmly believe as you do that race is a piece of the Obama loathing it is more complicated.

    For these people Herman Caine was a viable candidate. Obama is loathed by the non-racists in the right wing crowd becasue of his “otherness.” If he were African American they could accept him more. but the fact that he is African and American is the bigger problem. The fact his father is muslim; the fact he spent part of his childhood in Indonesia; the fact that he is biracial.

    All of this adds to his “otherness.” obama is a totem for everything these folks dislike that has happened since the 60s. Civil right and black culture being “forced” down their throats. Environmenmtalism, lack of patriotism, feminism. It is all part of Obama. This truly is a culture war. This is the last (i hope) gasp of white male privelege. These are folks who harken to a world where you received certain advantages for just being born white, male, and Christian, and they do not like how the new century is turning out.

  2. avatar tonyseton says:

    There seems to be a curious lack of discussion — and even basic understanding — of the stark difference between Republicans and conservatives.
    Elucidation might be found in a short video called “Elephants Resign.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVEXWLfw0bY

    /s/ a progressive conservative

  3. avatar chrisfinnie says:

    While I loathed Dubya as much as anybody, National Review is wrong about the reasons why. It had little to do with who he is. I disliked the way he got the office. And I hated what he did while in office.

    He lied to the American people about Iraq.
    He started wars for the wrong reasons, with a lamentable lack of planning, and with no real way to succeed.
    He exploded the national debt with military spending and tax cuts for the wealthy.
    He let New Orleans drown.
    And he exposed the country to ridicule through his obvious lack of qualification for the job.

    And those are just some of the worst things–not all of them by far.

    I don’t think Obama has done a great job in office either. While I didn’t think my expectations were unrealistic, I did expect him to protect the Constitution. He did teach about it in law school. So I thought he’d have more than a passing familiarity with it. If he does, he hasn’t exhibited any more dedication to it than Dubya did.

    Still, I find the fact that the right wingnuts think he’s a WORSE president than Bush fairly astounding. That’s a low bar to clear, and I don’t think Obama has done it.

  4. avatar tegrat says:

    I think another distiction between hating Bush and hating Obama is that, at least for me, I could acknowledge the (few) times Bush did something right and give him credit, and not immediately take the opposing view like the Republicans do when Obama does ANYTHING, even doing what they supported minutes before. They’re like two-year-olds having a tantrum for the sake of the tantrum – it’s all about registering their dislike of Obama, policy be damned! The sooner we’re rid of them the better, then we can at least start dealing with the knuckleheaded Democrats, which are in no short supply.

  5. avatar chuckmcfadden says:

    prydog1 — exactly. There are an awful lot of Republicans out there who want “a regular President.” As you say, they reject much of this strange stuff such as feminism, civil rights, environmentalism, etc.
    The question we will all face in November of this year is how far nuttiness has spread in this country. The South Carolina crowd raises my concern level. Yes, I know it’s South Carolina, but still…

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