South Carolina Republicans Preferred Gung-ho Gingrich Over Reasonable Romney

Republicans don't simply want to beat Obama, they want to humilate him, and Romney seems less and less likely to be the candidate who can make their wish come true.

The traps of conventional wisdom and the pitfalls of herd mentality were on display in South Carolina last night, as Newt Gingrich’s crushing victory in the Republican primaries crushed prevailing presumptions as well. Contrary to the predictions that were so widely accepted only a few short days ago, a Mitt Romney win is not a foregone conclusion, Republicans don’t necessarily view Romney as the candidate best-suited to defeat Barak Obama and the battle for the Republican nomination won’t be short and sweet, after all, but rather long and arduous with a high potential of seriously damaging Republican prospects in November.

Gingrich’s impressive triumph can be ascribed, first and foremost, to Sheldon Adelson’s money, which allowed the former Speaker of the House of Representatives to survive his disappointing finishes in both Iowa and New Hampshire and to launch a toxic and effective counterattack against Romney in South Carolina. But Gingrich’s triumphant return to center stage stemmed mainly from his commanding performances in the two debates held last week, in which he showed that he is not afraid to be “politically incorrect”, that he does not shy away from seemingly denigrating blacks, that he can easily brush off gossip about his previous marriages and that he is eager to take on the conservatives’ favorite Public Enemy Number One: the elitist and defeatist liberal media.

With his in-your-face combativeness, Gingrich has touched the gut instincts of many southern Republicans. They are not willing to make do with a moderate and uncharismatic candidate like Romney, even if he is theoretically capable of attracting more independent centrist voters. The Republicans are incensed at Obama, many of them detest him personally and most of them want to “see blood”, figuratively, of course. They prefer to put a no-holds-barred, our-kind-of-guy fighter in the ring who will stick it to Obama and to the elites that support him. They don’t want to simply defeat Obama, they want to humiliate him, and Romney seems less and less likely to be the candidate who can make their wish come true.

Unlike the increasingly aggressive Gingrich, Romney has been put on the defensive in recent days and has lost much of his aura of “inevitability” and “electability”. Romney’s prestige was dented after it emerged that it was not him, but Rick Santorum, who won Iowa by just a few votes: he was apparently jarred by the incessant attacks against his “swinish capitalism” at Bain; and he was definitely diminished by his stuttering replies to demands that he make his income tax returns public and by his remark that the $400,000 or so that he earned last year in speakers’ fees were “not very much” after all. Suddenly, Romney seemed to be too rich, too aloof and way too timid to be the Republican candidate of choice.

Gingrich’s victory is bound to now raise the alarm in the Republican establishment, which has distanced itself from the former Speaker and does not believe that he can win the November elections. These sentiments, by the way, are mutual, as Gingrich showed last week by screening ads last week in which he called on voters to reject attempts by the “liberal Republican establishment” to impose their preferred candidate on the party. Some analysts were talking yesterday of an all-out war between Gingrich and the establishment, should he continued to succeed, which might end up with an attempt to anoint a hitherto unannounced candidate at a brokered Republican Convention in August.

WITH the battle now moving to Florida, one can expect a higher profile for Israel-related campaigning, as the three top candidates, Romney, Gingrich and Santorum - with the glaring exception of Ron Paul - vie for the hearts and votes of Jewish voters. Expect to witness a fierce competition of declarations of unyielding support for Israel and for its hold on Judea and Samaria, along with militant and dismissive statements on Iran, on the Arabs and on the “invented” Palestinians.

In this regard, my friend Mark Baker, the well-respected Australian author and director of the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilization at Melbourne’s Monash University, drew my attention last night to Gingrich’s repeated pledge to pit his vision of “American exceptionalism” against the “radicalism of Saul Alinsky”. Alinsky is the Jewish Chicago-born originator of modern community organizing in urban America and the author of the influential “Rules for Radicals” handbook. His life’s work is thought to have influenced Barak Obama.

Gingrich’s positioning of Alinsky’s radicalism as the antithesis of “the real America” triggers a disturbing historical association with classic anti-Semitic smears in which the Jew was portrayed as “the other” and as a sapper of the nation’s inner strength. While there is no sign that I know of that Gingrich is an anti-Semite, he probably knew exactly what he was doing when he repeatedly mentioned a Jewish-sounding name in front of an audience in which many, if not most, had never heard of Alinsky.

In this day and age, it seems, there is no inherent contradiction, for many Evangelicals at least, between ardent admiration for Israel and undisguised disgust for “traditional” Jews, especially liberal American Jews, who voted, you must admit, for that godless anti-Christ Obama.