The campaign of Newt Gingrich had flagged in the weeks leading up to the Iowa caucuses. But after defeat there and some ill-advised attacks on Mitt Romney’s career in the private sector, Newt Gingrich found new life when Fox News’ Juan Williams tried to goad him, in the debate on Martin Luther King Jr. day, on Gingrich’s comments about making it easier for poor kids to obtain work experience. Williams suggested that Gingrich’s comments were racially insensitive. Gingrich won a standing ovation for going toe-to-toe with Williams, rejecting Williams’ fundamental take on those comments, and by most accounts that moment won him that debate. He moved up in the South Carolina and national polls in the following days.
Gingrich opened tonight’s debate again dueling with the media. Under a cloud created by his ex-wife Marianne and an ABC interview with her yet to air, CNN’s John King opened the Charleston debate with a direct question to Gingrich about his past. “Do you want to take a moment to address that?” King asked.
“No, but I will,” Gingrich replied. And he wound up his ire and spent the next few minutes pulverizing the media for digging into his past on the eve of the South Carolina primary. When King tried to deflect Gingrich’s wrath back off onto ABC, Gingrich would have none of it: King has brought up the issue in the debate, after all. King looked visibly cowed.
In the hotel bar in Charleston, SC where I ended up watching the debate, cheers went up to match the standing ovation Gingrich earned from the live audience. The other candidates all found themselves, rather than criticizing Gingrich’s past infidelity, piling onto his attack on the media.
Looking back at previous GOP debates this cycle, Gingrich always rose most when he directly attacked the media. His strongest applause lines have consistently come after sparring with moderators, rejecting the premises of their biased questions, and getting in their faces. When Newt Gingrich fights, he wins.
Newt Gingrich was not my preferred candidate, and still isn’t. But in these debates he has proven that Republicans love a fighter. We are tired of a biased media belittling us and denigrating, even undermining, us. We are tired of an ignorant media inflating nonsense and avoiding asking the other side the tough questions Republicans deal with every day. Like a Civil War general once accused of letting his personal problems get in the way of doing his duty, we may not be able to spare Newt Gingrich. He isn’t perfect, far from it. But he fights.
That general later became president despite the accusations against him. For what it’s worth.
Watch video on the next page.
Update: Video of the debate’s first five minutes.