Newt Gingrich came into the CBS/National Journal debate on Saturday night with the most momentum, having surged into second place in numerous national and state polls in the last week. He left the debate with his momentum in tact, but his performance underscored something else: Gingrich showed he has what it takes to win South Carolina.
Team Gingrich believes that if Gingrich is still viable by the time South Carolina votes in the nation’s first-in-the-south primary on January 21, 2012 and wins the South Carolina primary, Gingrich, in keeping with the Palmetto State’s tradition of having voted for the GOP nominee in every election cycle since 1980, will win the nomination.
In the most recent Insider Advantage poll, businessman Herman Cain led in South Carolina with 26 percent of those surveyed. Gingrich was in second with 19 percent and Romney was at 16 percent. A recent national poll, conducted by CBS, had Cain in the lead at 18 percent, followed by Romney and Gingrich at 15 percent each.
While the foreign policy focused debate was heavy on substance, Gingrich came off well to the average viewer, particularly in South Carolina, because only the first hour of the debate was televised on CBS. After the first hour, most CBS affiliates aired a rerun of the television drama “NCIS” and the next 30 minutes of the debate had to be viewed online. When many attempted to go online to watch the stream of the debate, the feed seemed to be overloaded, and viewers were unable to get a continuous stream of the debate.
With all this in mind, here are some reasons why Gingrich’s performance was well-suited for South Carolina.
1. Gingrich is fiercely anti-Obama
The primary electorate in South Carolina is rabidly anti-Obama, and Gingrich started off by highlighting Obama’s failures on Iran, saying the answers given by the other candidates on stage were better than Obama’s policies.
“There are a number of ways to be smart and a few ways to be dumb and the administration skipped all the ways to be smart,” Gingrich said.
Gingrich relishes attacking Obama and is not afraid to give the conservative base that is angry with Obama the red meat they crave.
2. Gingrich projected strength on national security matters
When confronted by the moderator about killing an American citizen, in reference to Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni-American who was killed by the United States in Yemen, and whether such a person had certain rights afforded to citizens, Gingrich emphatically said that, “he’s not a terrorist suspect, he is a person who is found guilty under review of actively seeking the death of Americans.”
Gingrich reminded Pelley that it was the rule of that law that “if you engage in war against the United States, you are an enemy combatant, you have none of the civil liberties” of a citizen.
Gingrich said that the “correct thing in an act of war is to kill people who are trying to kill you.”
These words projected ferocity and strength, which South Carolina voters value in their Republican presidential candidates.
3. Gingrich spoke of issues specific to South Carolina
Gingrich spoke about using royalties from natural gas resources to expand the Port of Charleston, a local issue of importance to South Carolina. It showed Gingrich, more than most candidates, knows how to skillfully tailor his answers endear him to various localities.
4. Gingrich again used the moderators as a foil and played the role of GOP team captain
Finally, when asked to elaborate on his comments earlier in the week that Romney would simply be a manager of Washington, D.C. and Gingrich would be a change agent, Gingrich simply said, “no.”
GOP voters want the party united to defeat Obama and despise the mainstream media.
With a simple “no,” Gingrich managed again both to be the GOP team captain while poking the mainstream media in the eye, much to the delight of voters who make up the conservative base that he will need to propel him to the nomination.
Most importantly, Gingrich projects substance and optimism along with an anti-establishment mischievousness that will play well in South Carolina going forward.