The Corner

The Ball Is in Florida’s Court Now

“We’re ready to take out some of the balloons we’ve been storing,” is how Democratic strategist Donna Brazile greeted the idea that Newt would win by a significant margin in South Carolina, an hour before the polls closed and Newt was indeed declared the winner. She was echoing James Carville, who said much the same thing. So what is it that makes these two lefties happy about Newt’s win?

They think they know that tonight’s result means one of two things — Newt as the GOP nominee, which they pray for, or a battered and bloodied Mitt Romney as the president’s opponent, which they will settle for.

They are wrong on both counts.

The South Carolina electorate didn’t vote for a person or a platform; they voted for a personality — the fiery, combative, MSM-hating Newt. They want the GOP nominee to charge at the president, throw around the term Alinksyite, push back at John King and Juan Williams, and shout out the absurdity of Barack Obama as president and the destructiveness of his combination of epic incompetence and awful ideology. 

I suspect that the GOP as a whole has a lot of this pent-up anger at the Manhattan-Beltway media elites, and they too have been cool to cool hand Mitt as a result.

But if, having been indulged, that passion for a political fistfight ebbs and the desire to win grows, Romney will be a much, much better nominee for having blown a round on points and too timid by far a strategy.

I emailed a strong Romney supporter this week that I was disappointed at Romney’s absence from talk radio, his lack of extended conversations on-air with the conservative electorate unmediated by MSM figures. When the platforms are available to speak directly to conservative voters and you are not using them, you are missing opportunities. Sure, skip the set-ups, but accept the real invitations to talk to conservative voters, who control this process. Team Romney thought this was sewn up after New Hampshire and went into a plan that assumed the nomination and the leisure to pick battles and frame issues. It wasn’t and isn’t, and needs to be earned if it is to be won.

A “sure-thing” strategy might have been great except for this roiling mass of voters who want to be very sure that the GOP nominee talks bluntly, at length, and with passion about the absolutely awful record of a failed president, about how the elite media cleared his path in 2008 and has protected him since, and how Barack Obama’s contempt for the rule of law is not only startling but a source of great worry.

Center-right voters fear for the Republic and know their fear is legitimate. “Independents” also feel that fear, but don’t know what it is, or express it as just worry over the economy. The deep sources of that fear have to be articulated, and forcefully.

Newt’s greatest contribution to the race has been to demonstrate that the style of political argument that Chris Christie and Paul Ryan debuted in the last couple of years actually is not a luxury but a necessity to win hearts and minds in the GOP. The 2012 election will not be won because of Mitt Romney’s tax returns or his years at Bain, or because of Newt’s past marriages or the payments from Freddie.

2012 will be decided on whether the American people rouse themselves as they did in 2010, and having roused themselves again, are less afraid of the decline staring them in the face than they are of the painful but promising future and the GOP nominee who is promising to lead them to it by first returning to the founding principles of the country.

South Carolina has helped both Gingrich and Romney, and the Florida contest in ten days will almost certainly decide the nominee. A brokered convention? When much of the primary angst has been over the power of elites to ignore the people as was done with Obamacare and arrange secret deals of the sort Ron Paul says is the daily fare at the Fed? It will be Mitt or Newt or Rick. That is the choice now.  There’s no new nominee on a white horse. There isn’t even a horse. There is a long process that pushes the nominees and sharpens their abilities while exposing the strengths and weaknesses of their staffs and consultants. Governor Palin was talking from experience when she all but said there is a lot of strength to be gained from going through the fire.

The Palmetto State was unfair to Rick Santorum, as was the MSM throughout the fall, the Iowa GOP on the night of the caucuses, and CNN’s John King on Thursday night, when the first question should have been about Iran and should have gone to the former Pennsylvania senator. Santorum may soldier on, but whether he does or not, everyone has to respect the grace with which he has accepted a series of unfair turns dating back to 2006 when a last name in a suit swept him aside because that legacy candidate could surf a flood. Santorum is a good and very able public servant, and though he faces a very uphill battle in Florida, he’s not had much help from anyone to date, and he doesn’t need anyone’s advice on how to run that race.

Incredibly the GOP next turns its fate over to NBC on Monday night. Advice to Mitt and Rick: Don’t copy Newt, but understand that he won in South Carolina because he absolutely refuses to let the MSM set the agenda, which is the president’s agenda.


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