Thursday, January 19, 2012

Rage As Performance Art

Will Newt Gingrich's slashing populist attack on the allegedly anti-conservative U.S. news media deflect criticism of his checkered personal life and allay concerns about his obvious temperamental unsuitability for the White House? It would probably help if other conservatives joined in, but they didn't.

Ron Fournier on tonight's GOP debate:
The first question from CNN moderator John King was posed to Gingrich: Would he like to respond to his ex-wife?

"No," Gingrich replied. "But I will." While the partisan audience applauded in support, Gingrich glared at King and blamed the messenger. "I'm appalled that you would begin a presidential debate with a topic like that," he said.

In hindsight, perhaps Gingrich had been preparing for the moment for months by leading the attack against the media at nearly every debate. Partisan audiences, especially Republican crowds, generally believe the media are slanted against them. Journalists are easy targets.

"Every person in here knows pain. Every person in here has someone close to them going through painful things," Gingrich said. It was a brash bit of political theater: A thrice-married man who has admitted to cheating on two wives ducked his ex-wife's charges and dismissed his infidelity as merely "painful things."

Despicable? Trash? Those are not words he used to describe his actions. Rather, Gingrich called ABC's decision to broadcast the ex-wife's story two days before the South Carolina primary as "as close to despicable as anything I can imagine."

He denounced CNN for taking "trash like that and use it to open a presidential debate."

Gingrich described King's question as an example of an elite media attack against Republicans designed to help Barack Obama. But when King asked the other candidates if they thought Gingrich's personal life was a legitimate issue, the GOP voted 2-1 in favor of CNN's editorial judgement. Rick Santorum said he was thankful for God's forgiveness but added, "Issues of character are for people to consider...for everyone in this audience to look at." (Later in the debate, he accused Gingrich of grandiosity, "worrisome" behavior, and political cowardice and reminded the audience of Gingrich's policy ADD and the GOP coup that ousted him from the House speakership.) Ron Paul said, "Setting standards is very important" and mentioned his wife of 52 years. Only frontrunner Romney urged King to get to the real issues, though he'd already pointedly introduced himself as an implicitly faithful husband and the father and grandfather of multitudes.

My Nixon buddy Hugh Hewitt, no booster of the MSM, hasn't blogged about tonight's debate yet, but he wrote this morning that the Marianne Gingrich interview was "devastating." At NRO, Jonah Goldberg wrote:

Newt’s opening answer was very strong and will be replayed a lot. But I thought it was overstated and, as he kept going, it became clear he was trying to squelch the issue rather than express his true rage. When he was all lovey-dovey with John King after the debate, it underscored that it was as much performance as anything else.

Republicans are lucky to have such an entertaining performer to enliven their debates. But they won't nominate him to run for president.

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