Anyone who watched Thursday night’s GOP debate in South Carolina would be forgiven for wondering whether the candidates arrived for the evening in a limousine or a clown car. Following a day when Mitt Romney discovered that he lost Iowa after all, Rick Perry decided to quit (two weeks late), and Rick Santorum could credibly argue that he was the most stable candidate in the race, the exchange of verbal gunfire at the debate was only to be expected. Of course, no one could top Newt Gingrich’s day, which included a dramatic rise among South Carolina voters in a poll and the accusation from his second wife, Marianne, that he wanted an “open marriage.” That might be a enlightened gesture in some circles but certainly not within the Grand Old Party.
Gingrich, who lives in a glass house and throws stones, is most motivated when he’s angry, and he was steam-pouring-out-of-every-orifice angry at the debate. When the moderator, CNN’s John King, opened the debate by asking about Marianne’s open marriage comment, Gingrich all but lunged for King, accusing him of being an Obama stooge. “I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that,” Gingrich fumed before ripping King a new one, to the applause of the right-wing audience. Good thing it wasn’t FOX doing the questioning–or King Newt might have actually felt compelled to anwer the question.
Long distrusted by evangelicals because of his revolving door at the wedding chapel, Gingrich is now able to cast himself once again as a victim of the liberal media. Rush Limbaugh said that Marianne’s accusation was actually a mark in Newt’s favor. “Newt’s slogan ought to be, ‘Hell, yes, I wanted it,’” Limbaugh said on his radio show. And forgotten-but-not-gone Sarah Palin said Gingrich would “soar” because conservatives would see through “the politics of personal destruction.” Only in the through-the-looking-glass world of Republican politics would the notion of an open relationship suddenly be a political asset after years of hitting everyone over the head with a cherry-picked version of the Old Testament.
Meantime, Rick Santorum spent the debate excoriating Gingrich for being so “grandiose” that he was incapable of being president and accusing both Gingrich and Romney of “playing footsies with the left.” (Careful, boys. Next thing you know you’ll be marrying dogs.) And Mitt Romney spent the debate being, well, Mitt Romney. Meaning that he dodged questions, most notably about the release of his tax returns. After all, by his own admission, most of Mitt’s money comes from investments and he makes “not very much” for speaking fees. “Not very much” to someone of Romney’s enormous wealth translates into $374,327.62.
As for Ron Paul–he continues his fight to defeat Woodrow Wilson.
By all accounts, President Obama has a tough road to re-election. But has the Republican party ever fielded a sorrier lot than this crew? By the time they are done demolishing each other, there may not be that much more for Obama to do. And if Saturday’s vote in South Carolina turns out not to seal Romney’s coronation, the demolition derby could keep on playing for weeks.