by Bruce Dobie
Yeah, Gingrich is about as Southern as sea bass in béarnaise in Buckhead, but it didn't matter. And yeah, Gingrich is a little too smarty-pants and fond of waving his hands around like a decorator showing curtains. But Perry and Gingrich are old enough to have been taught never to support the Northerner. Particularly a Northerner who happens to be an asshole. "My Gawd, Newt, we got us a two-fer. It's lesson time."
In defeat, Perry understood well-staged retribution before his tactical retreat to Austin. He and Newt may be the last generation of Southerners who feel this way, but how righteous and apt it is that this takes place in the state whose residents a century and a half ago really couldn't wait for the rest of the South to secede and went at it alone on Sumter?
Perry has always appeared to sneer at Romney, in only the way a dirt-poor kid from Paint Creek can have learned how to sneer in the class-riddled politics of resentment and envy and holdover venom from a long, long time ago. A Yankee in blue jeans with slick hair? Not a Yankee from New York, even, but a Massachusetts Yankee, even further up there, who made a fortune not starting out slinging drill pipe or driving a tractor or pounding fence posts but a fellow who spent his intern years on a bike in the fields of Normandy doing mission work. Oh, crap.
What a pantywaist. To endorse Gingrich, Perry had to hold his nose, but in a near-Muslim confluence of interests the enemy of the enemy got all chummy-chummy.
Thursday was lovely all over. Rick Santorum learned he had actually won Iowa, and all he got was another off-color monogrammed sweater vest from a sad little Rotary Club in a dismal media market. He was left speaking into the ancient South Carolina wind, unheard, quoting New Testament scripture but without the anger, which he'll never get.
Gingrich, meanwhile, found his second wife going on national TV to describe him as a man who advocated open marriage. But he steeled up to it by begging off on Jesus, and this will, one predicts, ameliorate the dissonance. Southern Carolina is almost as weird as French South Louisiana, where the occasional bedding of a woman other than the significant other isn't a sign of weakness but of power. This too shall pass.
South Carolina remains a sick relic, but so appropriate as the amphitheater for Republican hand-to-hand. It emboldens the outrageous, as when Gingrich in the debate so artfully and with such finesse turned to moderator Juan Williams, acidly, and said, "Well, Juan…." And then he just left the audience to fill-in-the-blank with its own South Carolina assumptions about who precisely Juan Williams is. Is he black? Well, he's Juan, so maybe he's brown? Combo? Who the hell knows! Let 'er rip, Newt!
I have been waiting so long for the sequence of the last three days. Until now, the campaign has limped along with the lame plotline of a winner winning yet again, and the attacks disappearing like spit in a fire. But Newt's debate performance rocked, the South Carolinians have seemed to pick up on his macho Confederate tilt, and the polls indicate we have a contest. I can see Gingrich now winning South Carolina and I can see this spectacular fight both growing and growing weirder.
If Gingrich wins, and I hope he will for the spectacle of it, we will go past South Carolina, mostly just Newt vs. Mitt now, with Ron Paul firmly positioned to get the irrelevant and cranky great uncle vote. We will go on to Florida, with its weirdo agglomeration of the old and the bankrupt and the Cuban and the depleted suburban, all wandering actors in one of the most damaged economies in the Western world. There the slick Romney will encounter enough buried resentments and economic hostilities to keep Newt Gingrich's merrily explosive brain fermenting at such a hateful clip that no response team will be able to keep up. The pageant will be rich.
Newt Gingrich is capable of incenting riots. I think with the support of the Tea Party and his brilliant and utterly dangerous understanding of demogoguery, it could come to that.
This thing finally got fun.