By Paul Gable
If Newt Gingrich should go on to claim the Republican presidential nomination, he will fondly remember Myrtle Beach as the place his success began.
Coming into the Myrtle Beach presidential debate last Monday, Gingrich had suffered two significant defeats at the hands of Iowa and New Hampshire voters and learned that opponent Rich Santorum received the endorsement of a group of 170 social conservative evangelical leaders.
However, Gingrich parlayed two strong debate performances and a week’s worth of sound bites into a convincing victory from South Carolina conservatives Saturday, defeating closest rival Mitt Romney by a 40 percent to 28 percent margin. Santorum came in third at 17 percent with Ron Paul claiming 13 percent.
Gingrich said it was not that he was a good debater, rather “It’s that I articulate the deepest-held values of the American people.”
In his remarks to his supporters, Gingrich thanked “everyone in South Carolina who decided to be with us in changing Washington” and “who feel the elites in Washington and New York have no understanding…and in fact do not represent them at all.”
Gingrich is now trying to present himself to voters as a Washington and New York outsider when his whole professional resume lists 20 years as the Representative from Georgia’s 6th congressional district, including his final four years in Washington as Speaker of the House. After his 20 years as a Washington insider, Gingrich became a highly paid consultant to big business, including $1.6 million from mortgage giant Freddie Mac, in his time as a New York insider.
Gingrich may well be the best chameleon ever to hit the national political stage. He gets people to believe what he says when his history tells us different.
One of his truest comments comes from a discussion he had with second wife Marianne Gingrich.
“It doesn’t matter what I do,” Gingrich told Marianne. “People need to hear what I have to say. There’s no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn’t matter what I live.”
The Gingrich victory in South Carolina begs the question, what type of candidate do Republican voters wish to nominate and support in the fall fight against President Barack Obama?
Do they want the ever changing Gingrich who is on his third wife, his third religion and his third time as one of the top candidates in the field?
Do they want the buttoned up, professional Romney who consistently garners support from Republican voters in the 28-30 percent range but struggles to go beyond that level?
Do they want Santorum who seems to excite the evangelical leaders but not the base or do they want Paul who has deep support among his followers but fails to expand that group very much?
Or will we see no candidate gaining the number of delegates needed to clinch the nomination before the convention?
There has not been a brokered convention since the 1952 Republican nominating convention. Can you imagine going through six months of primaries and caucuses only to have the ultimate nominee decided by party bosses in a legendary “smoke filled room” and possibly be a candidate who emerges at the convention without ever having been out on the primary trail?
That is not as improbable as it sounds in this very improbable election year of 2012.